Janis Ian Peter Reilly - Essay

Peter Reilly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Seven years after the success of Society's Child, a watershed topical song written when she was fifteen, Janis Ian is back, at the age of twenty-two, with songs composed during her own private season of hell. Always one of the most sensitive of composer/performers, often hypersensitive in live performance, she has at last stopped meandering artistically and [on "Stars" has] come to some positive conclusions: yes, the public will eat you alive if you let it, but she still wants to be a Star; yes, she was deeply in love with Jesse, and though he's gone she's still in love (You've Got Me on a String). However, she's still looking around (Sweet Sympathy) and has a pretty good idea of what kind of life she wants with any new love (Page Nine), and, what-the-hell, life goes on anyway (Applause). The old bitter rage is evident only once here, in Dance with Me, in which her fury over the contemporary American scene can send smoke spiraling out of your speakers. It's very strong, tough stuff, and it makes Lauro Nyro and some of the other female composers of protest songs sound like the bluestocking mumblers of bitchery that they often are (I loved it).

Unfortunately there still lingers an air of veiled contempt, a touch of the common scold, about Ian's performances which often contradicts the more positive sense of the lyrics. I don't mind it, but I know that others do and will be turned off by it. But this is an album definitely worth listening to nonetheless, most importantly as an opportunity to hear a real artist struggling to sort out and to communicate through a morass of negative and positive emotions. Ian is trying her damndest to mellow, and except for that one track here she seems to be succeeding. (pp. 84, 86)

Peter Reilly, "Popular Discs and Tapes: 'Stars'," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1974 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 33, No. 2, August, 1974, pp. 84, 86.