Customer Reviews: The Mona Lisa's Sister
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on September 14, 2000
Long considered by MOST GP fans as one of the three best albums done by him (along with "Squeezing Out Sparks", 1979's Rolling Stone Critic's pick for album of the year and 1996's "Acid Bubblegum", his last studio effort), "The Mona Lisa's Sister" signalled the arrival of GP as a truly independant artist as well as the resurgence (in quality at least) of a somewhat moribound career. While his loyal fans enjoyed his work of the early-mid 80's, it did seem as his sense of direction and earlier commitment to his music was somewhat lacking. "Mona Lisa" was GP's first TOTALLY personal record and established the pattern he was to follow for the rest of his career, making records that make HIM happy and all of his fans have benefitted from that artistic genesis. "Mona Lisa" includes some of his absolute greatest songs, and every song is an heartfelt and riveting performance. Some reviewers have quibbled with Buddha's remastering here, but I thank it really does a lot for the lower end which was somewhat subdued on the earlier production. A matter of taste, but a truly wonderful record regardless of which mix you prefer. As readers of GP's website (found at know, it is a mystery when or if GP is going to release a new studio album. Myriad label changes and a refusal to subvert his musical philosophy have led to diminished sales and recognition over the years. I consider GP to be in the same league as Van Morrison and Bob Dylan as a song writer/performer. Unbelievers only need to peruse his work of the past 20 plus years and they MIGHT be converted, or at least acknowledge that GP is one of the most underrated and underappreciated artists of his time.
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on June 25, 1998
I've long considered Graham Parker part of my "little, p*****-off British guy" phase, during which I listened to a lot of Elvis Costello and related artists. Parker is a cynic, without a doubt, but the heart of a true romantic still beats in his chest. Like Costello, who does not allow his varnish of world-weary cynicism to obliterate his soft side, Parker goes from sharp-tongued social criticism to whistful longing at times in the same breath. All without forgetting how to craft a good solid melody, which makes for music you can listen to even if you're not particularly interested in what it has to say.
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on November 7, 2013
Graham Parker at his finest. Surprisingly upbeat for the social commentary of the lyrics. If you like Parker, it is a must have. If you have never listened to him, this is, in my opinion, his best work, so I would start with this album. It will not disappoint.
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on September 19, 2015
This is simply a terrific Graham Parker album. What that means is, if you know his music, you'll need this disc. If you don't, it's a good gateway album, playing to many of his strengths; great tunes, sharp lyrics and ass-kicking playing. A soul inflected collection that will leave you with a grin on your face. There's even a brave (and very credible) cover of Sam Cooke's "Cupid". Another reviewer said this was one of his top three albums. I'd agree with that but put it alongside "Squeezing Out Sparks" and his debut "Howlin' Wind".
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on October 24, 1999
This disc is the highlight of his career, because it was here that he took charge of production and made the record he wanted to make. The songs come out easily with wit and grace. Back In Time and I'm Just Your Man are probably my favorite GP compositions. And the re-make of Cupid is done convincingly.
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on March 7, 2000
This was Parker going from pretty indifferent `mellow` music to the heights he attained with Struck by Lightning a coupla years after this. As usual there are some classics which soon as you hear them you think they`ve been around forever: Back in time,I`m Just Your Man and Success,but there are some songs that are in moulds Parker keeps on trying but has never pulled off. Example,Under the Mask of Happiness which is kinda `Southern Rock` which English rockers can never pull off--it`s from the Rolling Stones and all they `way down New orleans` fixations-- Then there is a song about Heironymous Bosch, a painter..puh-leeze! Mr Parker can not do `arty/intellectual` themes! And there`s a problem with the opener,which sounds like Neil Diamond trying to rock out. You feel in this record a low-watt glow of laidback,soft rock rather than Parker`s usual heated style. But the stand outs are worth it,and Blue Highways and Girl Isn`t Ready help the variation here (reggae and an acoustic Sprinsteen vibe respectively) while one song I Don`t Know is virtually a little education in rock; Buddly Holly meets Elvis vocal with an African guitar riff running through it as well as an `African-sounding` choral background. The result works brilliantly and is inspired. Not a disappointing album by all means...but just one that was a holding operation.
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on June 25, 2000
After Squeezing Out Sparks, GP released his last album with the Rumour "The Up Escalator" (now out of print) in 1980 and spent most of the 80's putting out very uneven albums, hitting rock bottom with "Steady Nerves"
But in 1988, he turned things around and released this brilliant album.
This is almost as good as GP's golden era (1976-79) - not quite, but almost. "Back In Time" may be the most poetic song he has ever written, though. It epitomizes the music of GP - cynical but beautiful.
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on April 29, 2000
The angry young man, Graham Parker, doesn't appear all that angry on The Mona Lisa's Sister. With Motown style songs like `I'm Just Your Man,' `Blue Highways,' `Success,' and `Cupid,' I'd call Graham a soulful young man. He gets so close to genuine Motown that you can imagine Smoky Robinson singing "I'm not a burnin' comet that fell out of the sky" (I'm Just Your Man). `Get Started Start A Fire' contains some funky bass lines, and `The Girl Isn't Ready' is a competent Reggae. There are a couple straight-up rockers here including the sizzling `Don't Let It Break You Down' and `OK Hieronymus.'
While you're singing along with Graham like a member of a Doo-Wop back-up group, you'll probably notice that the lyrics aren't exactly `I love my baby" R&B stuff. Kids are beating-up old people on `Don't Let It Break You Down,' and I'm not certain who Hieronymus (OK Hieronymus) is, but with lyrics like "Just taste the odor of burning skin,' I doubt that I'd like to meet him. Parker is best when he's cynical: Joan of Arc is burned at the stake for lighting a cigarette in an airport (Get Started Light A Fire). Maybe "angry" is a poor choice of words. Parker is disenchanted with love "I don't know why it's not enough to feel moments of mighty love" (I Don't Know), and also frustrated that he has never been a stadium sellout (Success). He has one minor bad trait: stuffing some lines with just too many words (Back In Time, OK Hieronymus).
I've tried to find one stinker, one throw-a way on this CD, but there isn't one. The combination of spirited R&B music and caustic lyrics works successfully on The Mona Lisa's Sister.
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on December 14, 2015
This is one of those rare great rock/pop albums that captures the spirit of its time and transcends it all at once.

From start to finish, the album feels less like a harbinger of things to come than a rueful reprise of what has happened. The pared down, lo-fi musicianship came at the tailiest end of New Wave and was a high-water mark of post-punk pop aesthetics. Today, it sounds as immediate and fresh as it did on release. In the spirit of the New Wave return to rock n' roll roots, these are short, catchy songs that tell stories with musical wit, quick rhythms and simple chord structures in the spirit of the best Elvis Costello or Chuck Berry.

Meanwhile, Parker's lyrics -- in songs like "Success," "Back In Time," "Under The Mask of Happiness," and "Don't Let It Break You Down" -- slap the rose-tinted glasses off the decade. This is pop music for adults, people who realize they are living and dying at the same time.

The album's genius lies in its coherence and the unflagging churn of friendly melodies encapsulating dark, heartfelt and mature reflections. Parker is at his best in modes of mordant reflection when he looks back on the contradictions of time, the realities of loss and the limits of self-awareness with a blend of honesty, pain and beleaguered hope. Where some artists need certainty -- and make a living whining about its absence -- Parker thrives on seeing the paradoxes. He's the pop siren of Keats' negative capability -- the poet's ability to see "uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."

Musically, he also needs melody -- it's the counterpoint to his piercing views, the sonic hope that reminds us we can survive the contradictions and amusements unfolding in the songs.

The album was never a big hit, and neither was Parker, but from this juncture, 28 years after the album's release, who really cares? Unlike so many big hits of the decade (can anyone say Phil Collins), this is music that survives the test of time and reveals the best its era had to offer. Like Sam Cooke's "Cupid," which Parker reprises, this is pop music for the ages.
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on August 2, 2002
I happen to think the album that preceded this, Steady Nerves, was one of his all-time best. I only learned recently that following Steady Nerves he signed to Atlantic, but no album was released. Thus, this RCA debut arrived three years later. It's a lot more acoustic than earlier efforts, certainly a more mature, lower-key performance that is almost Dylanesque. While this new direction was no doubt a welcome facet in Parker's artistic maturation, it may have made RCA label heads wonder if they got what they had signed -- after all, this was a different sound. It set the pace for the albums that followed, which were increasingly well-produced and very folksy-acoustic, none achieving the commercial success of his earlier efforts with the Rumour and the Shot. Still, the grandeur of such songs as "Success," "Get Started (Start a Fire)," "Don't Let it Break You Down" and "Girl Isn't Ready" makes this a keeper. One wonders if including "Ordinary Girl" on the original release might have resulted in a more commercially successful hit that could have helped propel the album up the charts.
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