Pop music is all about the sound. The writing is secondary. That's not to say the writing is less valuable, as the best bands are those where the writing and the sound come together in glorious, glorious congress. But the sound is where it starts, even for the writing snobs such as myself.
In movies, great acting can make an alright movie very, very good. "Rachel Getting Married" comes to mind. But in pop music, a great sound can make a mediocre song mind-blowing. "Be My Baby." I need say no more.
This brings us to Keren Ann. Her songs are... they're good. Often just alright, honestly. For my money, she's only ever written one exceptional song, "Lay You Head Down". But hers is a sound that makes me want to cry. And I mean that as a compliment.
Her new album, 101, changes none of this. The songs are... decent. None of them stand out in my mind, save for "Sugar Mama," which someone should have told her to cut from the final product, and "101", which I'm going to give its own entry in a few days. But the album is hypnotically, even perversely, listenable. The sound of the music and the sound of her voice are a wonderful combination. Her lyrics are often clever in a pleasantly ignorable sort of way. But the songs themselves just don't stick with you. The whole almost never equals it's parts. This has been a consistent problem throughout her career.
I should note that I really enjoy Keren Ann. I don't include her on my list of favorites, but I did get very excited when I found out she had a new album coming out. I don't fault her for not writing better songs, because she never sounds like she wants to; it's almost as if she writes the songs she does only because she needs skeletons to hang her arrangements on. If I didn't love the sound of her voice, I would say she should become a producer. She's that rare artist who has a sound so good, and it is good, that it completely and utterly transcends her songs. There are countless artists who would kill for that.