The result is a rock songstress so seasoned and straight-shooting that she makes her own lesser work -- inspired by most standards -- seem silly in retrospect. Take her strangest quirk: the "I am succubus, hear me roar" goth fantasies of songs such as 1990's "Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)." When the same tendency crops up on Group Therapy, both in "Roxy," a gracious, scorching tribute to Roxy Music, and the love-turned-to-shit saga "Valentine," she manages to make every creak and shriek sound soulful and genuinely spooky. Like Billie Holiday (if six octaves lower), Napolitano carries her tragic weight elegantly. Her voice swoons and crackles like never before, making you feel sorry for the ex-boyfriend in "When I Was a Fool," who seems to have preferred her when she was still reading tarot cards and wearing too much eyeliner.
Speaking of eyeliner, there are a few groove-based tracks, like "Tonight," with its Police-ish reggae, that overwhelm Napolitano with retro-stylistics. Still, in a rock landscape where the empty nostalgia of groups like the Strokes and the Faint gets lathered in critical acclaim, Concrete Blonde's genuine '80s-isms are hardly a foul against it. Anyway, most of Group Therapy is a songwriter's album -- James Mankey's guitar, as fluent in punk as in flamenco; Napolitano's whispering keyboards; and Harry Rushakoff's spare drums craft timeless frames for more tough, literate, pungent gems than Napolitano has ever crammed into one album. She has guts of steel, a pen that could joust with Lucinda Williams and the wandering spirit of a lapsed Catholic. And on Group Therapy, she truly does drive on water.