Back in 1985, Suzanne Vega was trumpeted as leading the renaissance of the female singer/songwriter. In fact, it meant a return to safer images of women in pop after the liberation wrought by post-punk. Like all fads, it did not sustain many careers.
Two decades on, Vega finds herself signed to jazz label Blue Note, which has never before released such dull music as the chugging, mid-tempo guitar rock her band stray into at their worst. The musicians are New York sessiony slick, the sound tasteful in the extreme.
The best moments come from solo guitar spots or when Vega sings the punky Left of Centre and the spiky oddity Blood Makes Noise over nothing but rippling bass. The fragile Small Blue Thing, a song of strange sadness from her first record, is wonderful. New songs such as Frank and Ava either have conceits that feel stale or glib, or deal with big issues - 9/11, the death of her brother - whose emotive power is lost beneath the music's relentless sheen. Among them is one gem: Pornographer's Dream, a neat, twisted bossa nova worthy of Momus at his voyeuristic best.
Late in the set, she plays Luka, the band for once making a song ring with real energy. It is one of a handful of her songs that hold a nostalgic sway over a certain thirtysomething demographic. But then sometimes songs develop a power beyond their own because of the memory they evoke.
· At Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (0871 663 2500), tonight.