Amy Macdonald is best known for her success back when the noughties showed us denim miniskirts were a viable fashion trend, with 2007’s This Is The Life. On her fifth album The Human Demands, it’s no wonder that Macdonald circles back to the questions about life and humanity that have haunted her since her debut days.
The singer-songwriter reconnects with her indie roots on this album and, with production help from Jim Abbiss, the tracks of this album are as smooth and refreshing as a river. It is also Macdonald’s track about a river that is one of the standouts. Despite being the longest track on this album, The Hudson feels invigorating, with lyrics that convey simple yearning such as “Where did it all go wrong my love, where did we fall apart?/Summer in the ’70s, living like a king and queen/Looking back on where we are” combined with an upbeat and electrifying sound that is pristinely produced. This track is nostalgic, calling back to tracks like Mr Rock & Roll, whilst maintaining a grittier, more complex edge, but it is the whimsical storylike nature, Macdonald’s questioning lyrics and demanding vocals that make this track such a passionate offering.
The title track is less nuanced, with a heroic, buoyant air that speaks to intro track Fire. Fire is casually misleading, reminiscent of The Smiths classic Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want, full of fluttering percussion and layered vocals which are at odds with the vulnerable, open and honest tone of this track and, indeed, the rest of the album. The Human Demands follows suit, with Macdonald fleshing out her cavernous vocals with deep – but simplistic – piano melodies and a distinctly nostalgic feel as she questions the tumultuous feeling of loss and bone-deep tiredness that comes from the pressures we all put on ourselves. Although its sound is similar to other tracks, such as Something In Nothing, the lyrics are poignant and reflective.
Young Fire, Old Flame is similarly simplistic, but that suits this track. Sonically, it feels somewhere to the left of an old folk song: pretty, stripped back and classically Macdonald. Yet while it’s a good song, it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Statues is much more fun – country-indie in nature – albeit lyrically full of cliches: cherry blossoms and streets that never change. However, it’s easily danceable and its expert production, full of dramatic piano and energetic drums, saves Statues from being forgettable.
We Could Be So Much More, however, is the opposite; it’s the most exciting and thrilling track on this record. A running-down-the-road track, feeling the sunshine on your face, it has elements of sassy rock guitar that blends well with Macdonald’s vocals that have always been their own heavy instrument. Thematically, it’s similar to The Human Demands, tracking the difficulties of love and loss and fervent humanity, but sonically it’s a lot more experimental, with soft-tread instrumentals jumping frantically into that loud, frenzied guitar which really makes this track an experience to listen to.
Crazy Shade Of Blue follows a far slower tempo and progression, aiming to showcase Macdonald’s rich vocals. Although this allows her signature, elegant lyrics to be front and centre, sonically this track fades into obscurity, with lyrics that at first were tragically tormenting ending up repetitive. Although sonically Macdonald’s vocals are still easily listenable, it could have done with being so much more like We Could Be So Much More.
Ultimately, this record is full of the classic, anthemic hits that were to be expected from Macdonald, combined with the more thought-provoking theme of getting older and feeling unsure about how your life is going to work out. It works best when it’s a microscopic look at humanity, exploring a story that speaks to the themes at large, rather than tackling the themes head-on. It can be hoped that in future work Macdonald is more introspective, as more tracks like The Hudson are sure to be fan favourites.