On Surge, Jane Child delivers a tour de force
: Almost every instrumental note is programmed, arranged, played, and/or sequenced by Child; every vocal note, solo and harmonized, is hers as well. The songs -- all of them, needless to say, written solely by Child -- range from hook-studded, medium-tempo, two-chord burners ("You, Bluebird") through beautifully constructed, dreamlike slow tunes ("Sworn") to haunting yet somewhat disconnected pastiches ("The Willow Tree"). For all her breathtaking command, Surge falls short on commercial sensibility, mainly because of Child's fealty to the keyboard-dominated approach that had legs in the early '90s but feels out of fashion today. Her vocoder dalliances and miniMoog basslines, which suggest Stevie Wonder on funk-inflected tracks like "Lootsville," contribute to the somewhat dated overall feel. On tracks built more around guitar, such as "Nice Day," the grunge crunches and rhythm comps don't quite blend with the electronics she scatters throughout the bridge; the energy remains diffuse until she switches to balls-out rock toward the finale. The same is true for power ballads like "Honey Mine," whose raised-fist attitude on the chorus is subverted by her affected, whispered singing and psychedelic production on the verses. Child's talent is formidable, her willingness to take risks is laudable -- and the price she pays for it all in the marketplace with Surge is, unfortunately, predictable.