Happy 25th Anniversary to Edie Brickell’s debut solo album Picture Perfect Morning, originally released August 16, 1994.
While many of the summers of my youth gradually blur into ever-fading, undistinguishable memories as I get older, my recollections of the summer of 1994 remain, for the most part, strikingly vivid. The end of my junior year of high school and the beginning of my senior year bookended the season, so those three months were colored by the growing anticipation for the life milestone and transition to come the following year, when I would move to Los Angeles to begin my studies at UCLA.
It also marked the first summer that I was of legal driving age, a milestone in its own right that I put to frequent use, as I passed the time of those long summer days aimlessly cruising around my native stomping grounds of Oakland and Berkeley. In retrospect, considering how my current life runneth over with familial and professional obligations that force me to rather obsessively (read: neurotically) squeeze every minute out of every day, my life back in 1994 was remarkably lite when it came to any real responsibilities.
Though my friends would sometimes accompany me on those drives that often had no particular destination in mind, my most constant companion was music. The summer of 1994 was a particularly active one for my in-dash CD player, with albums by the likes of Aaliyah (Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number), Deee-Lite (Dewdrops In The Garden), OutKast (Southernplayalisticaddilacmuzik), Everything But The Girl (Amplified Heart), Warren G (Regulate… G Funk Era) and Boogiemonsters (Riders Of The Storm: The Underwater Album), among countless others, commanding heavy rotation.
But perhaps the most unexpected musical revelation for me that summer was the rather inconspicuously released first solo album by Edie Brickell. Though I had become a fan of Brickell’s music by then, thanks in large part to my sister introducing me to her first two albums with her New Bohemians bandmates (1988’s Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars and 1990’s Ghost Of A Dog), I had absolutely no idea that she had decided to fly solo for her next record.
So when I happened to stumble upon Picture Perfect Morning at Rasputin Music on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue shortly after its mid-August release, I was simultaneously thrilled and intrigued to discover what her songs sans band would sound like. And admittedly, cautiously optimistic.
At the time, it wasn’t particularly clear why Picture Perfect Morning wasn’t in fact the New Bohemians’ third studio affair. Revelations made years later would clarify matters, however, as Brickell and the band seemed to approach their newfound fame in the wake of Shooting Rubberbands and its ubiquitous hit single “What I Am” with skepticism, which necessitated a break from the grind. “We didn't know what was in store for us—photo shoots and a lot of that kind of thing,” Brickell reflected to the New York Times in 2003. “Maybe it was too much all at once. That was a lesson to be learned that we need to not be in the public eye so much, but to withdraw, get a new sense of life, get a new sense of music.”
The next chapter of Brickell’s life formally began in May 1992, when she married Paul Simon, the culmination of the romance that had first been sparked when the pair met on the set of Saturday Night Live nearly four years earlier in November 1988. The couple welcomed the first of their three children later that year.
Amidst the demands of new motherhood, Brickell found time to reenter the studio to record Picture Perfect Morning with an expansive ensemble of collaborators, most notably including the late Dr. John, Neville brothers Art and Cyril, saxophonist Michael Brecker, the workhorse producer/guitarist Jerry Douglas, and yes, even her husband, who co-produced the album. Though the filler-free, eleven-track finished product would offer no indication of her apathy, Brickell later confided that her heart hadn’t really been in it. "I should have never really done [Picture Perfect Morning],” she explained in a 2003 interview with her hometown Dallas Morning News. “I had pretty much lost interest at that point. I really just wanted a family."
Well, I, for one, am happy that she made the record. And I suspect that many of her fans would back me up on this one.
Likely forever destined to be obscured by the success and familiarity of its two precursors, the aforementioned first two New Bohemians albums, Picture Perfect Morning nevertheless contains some of the strongest songs in Brickell’s repertoire to date. An incongruous pairing on paper, the legendary soul icon Barry White makes a brief cameo appearance on the lone official single “Good Times,” bestowing his signature bass-baritone to Brickell’s laid-back, R&B indebted ballad.
Brickell picks up the pace on the album opener “Tomorrow Comes,” a midtempo, guitar and organ driven exploration of hoping for a fresh start in the face of hardship. “Another Woman’s Dream” offers another buoyant groove, as Brickell clarifies the type of companion she’s not particularly drawn to, in lines like, “He's too plain / He just likes white / He don't like rain / He don't like night / He shake hands like jelly glove / He makes money better than love / I don't know him / I just seen him / In another woman's dream.” Operating as the more endearing and listenable equivalent of those classic “Calgon, take me away” commercials (for those of us old enough to remember them), the feel-good, escapist anthem “In the Bath” finds Brickell finding serenity in shutting off the outside world.
Whether it’s Shooting Rubberbands’ “Circle” and “Air of December” or Ghost of a Dog’s “He Said” or “Stwisted,” I’ve always gravitated more toward Brickell’s slower, more somber fare, and the same holds true after countless listens to Picture Perfect Morning. “When the Lights Go Down” is a beautifully constructed examination of reconciling one’s career in the public eye and private life, a dichotomy that, as previously mentioned, Brickell and her New Bohemian brethren apparently tussled with as their career took flight. With its evocative imagery and soaring chorus, “Olivia” is a memorable highlight as well.
There has always been a palpable, reassuring innocence to Brickell’s lyrical voice and this is arguably best evidenced on “Green,” a wistful ode about observing others’ lot in life and comparing it to your own, encapsulated in lines like, “We like to spy on the neighbors / They look so happy together / Funny the power of strangers / Sometimes I wonder if they got it better / Green. Have you seen green? / Check out the view from the rooftop / They've got a horse and a big trampoline / Running and jumping till they drop / Down on the ground and they're rolling around in...green.”
Brickell’s proven narrative prowess shines the brightest on the album-concluding “Lost in the Moment,” a heartbreaking recounting of a store robbery gone tragically awry. The closing verse is particularly striking, as Brickell sings from the widow’s perspective, “She doesn't know what they'll do now, now that he's gone / Try to get over and try to get on / Alone in the backyard a cool afternoon / The tree they planted has started to bloom / She wanted him to see this, she wanted him there / She wanted to kiss him and brush back his hair.”
Following Picture Perfect Morning’s arrival and all but nonexistent promotional push, the notoriously private Brickell embarked upon a nearly ten-year hiatus from music to focus on her family, a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, in light of what she once confessed during an interview with The Chicago Tribune: “It's a lot of fun, but I won't do this forever. I want to be normal—you know, have a family, a dog, all that stuff.”
Though never one to covet the spotlight, Brickell has remained productive in recent years, most notably in the form of her collaborations with Steve Martin (2013’s Love Has Come for You and 2015’s So Familiar), her side hustle with The Gaddabouts, and most recently, the 2018 album Rocket by the reunited New Bohemians, their first LP in more than 12 years. Not to mention her two other solo projects, 2003’s Volcano and 2011’s eponymous Edie Brickell.
Reinforcing once again that her talent extends far beyond her most universally familiar hit single (“What I Am”), Picture Perfect Morning endures as an essential component of Brickell’s oeuvre, which, taken altogether, cements her rightful status as an American songwriting treasure.