Whether or not A Girl In Teen City is wholly autobiographical, Suzie Ungerleider’s concept album about growing up a teenager in the 80s in her hometown of Vancouver perfectly capture that adolescent search for identity, love and rebellion. Or, as she puts it on the album sleeve, “Falling in love, getting drunk, having her heart broken, hanging out with friends in bedrooms, basements and parking lots, sneaking into shows in burnt-out warehouses, watching the waves, walking home over bridges and railroad tracks in all that endless rain.”
The opening track, a sparsely strummed ‘Flashlights’, specifically recalls a night when she was 11, camping in the backyard with a friend, hanging out with some older boys from school and watching them dive into a local public pool, the start of her love affair with the freedom of the night.
Another love awakening comes with ‘Wolf Boy’, a gradually swelling piano ballad about falling for a boy from school who took on a new sense of mystery when she saw him in a movie theatre, coolly sitting by himself in a row behind her. There’s more falling in love for the first time in the less personal and more generic ‘Lucky Star’ with its references to assorted Vancouver landmarks, which leads quite naturally to ‘My Boyfriend’, a chiming pop rock tale of a guy who wants to sing in a high school band O (of which drummer Paul Brennan was a member) but, while he may have rock n roll dreams, he can’t sing in key while she “can sing circles around him.” The relationship probably didn’t last long.
Another piano-based number, but here with some reverb guitar midway, the slow sway of ‘The Darkroom At The School’ will strike a chord with anyone who used to make out somewhere the grown ups never suspected anything as going on. Two tracks recall going to loads of punk shows in Vancouver, ‘Tickets on the Weekend’ a jangly pop tune about being “baby-punks at the scene pretending we’re mean” that nods to the Ramones but is actually a memory of being busted by the cops for buying booze on their way to see D.O.A. ‘Getting Ready’, on the other hand, is a big guitar builder about how more time and energy was spent dressing up to for the gig than at the gig itself and comes with the great line “whatcha gonna do when your boyfriend’s prettier than you?”
It’s back to the love of the night on the Cyndi Lauper-like ballad ‘Walked All The Way Home’ with its tinkling keyboards and memories of the beauty of walking home alone in the rain after being thrown out of the local bar for having no i.d. Another slow, melancholia-soaked number, ‘Waiting For The Blossoms’ is a love letter to all the female friends who saw her through tough teenage times, giving way to ‘Thunderbird,’ her swaggery guitar-led contribution to the boys, girls and cars genre, co-penned by David Ogler and telling the story of his 1968 Thunderbird and how cool it was to go cruising the city blocks, suite dup in jeans and leather, drinking red wine in the backseat, but also infused with the sense that, with college ahead, your lives were about to change.
The spare piano of ‘Puget Sound’ moves her from Vancouver to Seattle with memories of visiting her cousins, “the smell of teenage boys and Twinkies”, she and her friends “waving goodbye to our Canadian lives” and getting the chance to be an American for a while. It’s back home though for the album closer, the simply strummed ‘My Old Vancouver’ which she describes as a “song about the landmarks, memories and events of Old Vancouver before it grew up”, the very time and place specific lyrics recalling a patchwork tapestry of the ballroom where X, Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys played, self-styled urban guerrillas the Vancouver Five and, another activist group, the Raging Grannies and the Shame the Johns campaign to name prostitutes’ clients who cruised the Dicks on Dicks venue, coming to the conclusion that the place wasn’t so grey after all. It may wallow in nostalgia, but, as Dean Martin once sang, “You can’t beat the memories you gave-a me.”
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Artist’s website: www.ohsusanna.com
‘A Girl In Teen City’ – official video: