Laura Nyro Janet Maslin - Essay

Janet Maslin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

At the time of Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (and, to a lesser extent, New York Tendaberry), Nyro imbued her songs with an arrestingly authentic hysteria, a wrenching freneticism that never felt forced. Reveling in a murky feminine eroticism, agonizing over her dependence upon men, struggling with religious convictions and concomitant fears, she could illuminate her wildly energetic melody lines and impressionistic lyrics with a lunatic lucidity, composing from a vantage point right on the edge….

[Smile] shows her to be understandably unwilling to live out on the border any longer, not even for the sake of her art…. Nyro is intent on protecting whatever new peace of mind she may have found, and she's both famous and talented enough to get away with it. Perhaps in part because it's been several years in the making, Smile is a diffuse album, one that attempts to substitute an air of pensive, languid serenity for the old days' fire. It's hardly a fair exchange; Smile adds nothing new to the Nyro oeuvre and it lacks many of what seemed at one time to be her most basic attributes. But Smile isn't a failure on the order of The Hissing of Summer Lawns either, because Nyro hasn't made Joni Mitchell's mistake of ranging too far afield of her own internal source material. Smile is vaguely autobiographical and its choices of subject matter are no more whimsical than Nyro's ever were: "Timer" was a wonderful song that just happened to be about a feline, and the new album's "The Cat-Song" is an almost equally effective tribute to a pet named Eddie. "The Cat-Song" and "Money" are the only two Smile numbers, though, that have sufficiently driving refrains to recall the excitement of Nyro at her best. Too much of the rest of the album meanders, and even the Oriental-sounding coda to the title cut lacks the characteristic urgency with which, in the past, she might have injected such a flourish. Smile winds up feeling less like an album than a postcard, a pleasant and casual reminder that Laura Nyro is keeping herself alive, well and newly contented by jealously guarding her privacy—no matter how tentatively she may have tiptoed back into the spotlight. (p. 67)

Janet Maslin, "Laura Nyro's Restrained Return," in New Times (copyright © 1976 by New Times Publishing Company), Vol. 6, No. 7, April 2, 1976, pp. 66-7.