Album Reviews

Amy Macdonald – Life In A Beautiful Light

(Mercury) UK release date: 11 June 2012

You may have forgotten about Amy Macdonald. Yet while Adele is out there conquering most of the modern world, the unassuming young Scottish singer has been knocking up almost as impressive sales figures in Europe, especially in Germany.

That may come as a surprise to those of us who remember the shy teenager singing songs about the break-up of The Libertines or dreaming of becoming of a pop star. Her third album has a suitably bigger, more confident sound, but it’s arguable that somewhere along the way, some of the charm’s been lost.

It’s clear from the outset though that Macdonald hasn’t lost her knack for a memorable, powerful chorus. Opening track 4th Of July begins with a scratchy sample of The Star-Spangled Banner, before launching into a chorus that the likes of The Killers would be proud of. It’s nothing startlingly original, but the addition of handclaps and a memorable horn section make for an enjoyable opener.

She pulls it off again with Slow It Down, another urgent, driving track which shows off her voice to its best advantage. Macdonald’s vocals may be divisive (she has a tendency to wail sometimes, in the manner of The Cranberries‘ Dolores O’Riordan), but every so often she’ll sound heartbreakingly sad and vulnerable – almost old before her time – before switching back into a more strong and powerful mode.

Where Life In A Beautiful Light falls down is where it tries too hard to sound ‘epic’. There’s a lovely tune hiding somewhere in The Game, but the production is too overwrought, this time highlighting the worst excesses in Macdonald’s voice, while the U2-esque guitar in Across The Nile soon becomes highly irritating. Also, her lyrics seem to be falling back on cliche too often – the intimate character studies of her debut are long gone, and now there’s lines about wishing on stars, going weak at the knees, and ghosts being given up.

These moments are frustrating as there are some great tunes here; the folky skip of Pride, and the sad and touching story of Left That Body Long Ago, for example. Macdonald is at her best when she keeps things subtle – as demonstrated on the inevitable ‘hidden track’ Two Worlds, a gorgeous acoustic number that proves that she can pull at the heartstrings just as effectively when she’s not imagining to fill a stadium.

Life In A Beautiful Light will no doubt continue the Amy Macdonald success story, and despite some bland detours into the middle of the road, there are still enough good moments here to remind of her talent. If she can ditch her, albeit understandable, tendency to play it too safe at times, she may yet find herself creating a really special record.

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More on Amy Macdonald
Amy Macdonald – The Human Demands
Amy Macdonald – Life In A Beautiful Light
Amy Macdonald – A Curious Thing
Amy Macdonald – This Is The Life
Amy Macdonald @ Eve Club, London