The current music scene isn’t short of new femalesinger-songwriters, which should make it hard for AmyMacdonald to stand out from the crowd, but she managesit admirably. In fact, the more times you spin herdebut disc, the more you’ll come to love her like thecasual mate who was never top of your party invitelist but who you’ve gradually come to notice is theone who’s always there when you really need her.
This Is The Life isn’t a dramatic record, butherein lies its charm. Behind the faux Seventiescover, faux dog-eared around the edges, is a voicethat sounds resignedly worldweary as Macdonaldshimmies through lyrics such as the title track’schorus question of “where you gonna go/where you gonnasleep tonight?” and the futile dreams of A Wish ForSomething More.
There’s an Americana tinge to her melodies thatgives the album a hint of melancholy blues, faintlyreminiscent of Jack White at his mostsentimental (Mr Rock & Roll in particular hasparallels with We’re Going To Be Friends), ofJohnny Cash if he’d been a pretty Glaswegiangirl rather than the Man In Black. If you want to lookto UK influences, listen for the ghost of KirstyMacColl beneath a voice that’s deeper than anyteenager’s has a right to be.
There are other bittersweet pop sensibilitiesburied here: a past featuring appearances by TheBluebells (one of the most underappreciated popbands of all time, for those of you scratching yourheads and asking “who?”), a desire to make music thatsounds as poetic and romantic as Pete Doherty,with the same dark, doomed romance he feels hiddenbeneath riffs that have been kicked in the gut oncetoo often. Listen to the creeping doom in those violinstrings beneath the accusation, “Do you know who youare?/I don’t think so/I don’t think so” if you needproof.
This Is The Life is an insanely accomplished albumfor a girl barely out of school. The music is rich,full and dark. The lyrics are infused with a darkheart that pulls them back from the brink of tweenaivety in such a wonderfully black way that you can’thelp but imagine what music she’ll be capable ofmaking when she’s older, more jaded and has really hada her heart broken a few times.
The critics who’ve slammed her for the simplicityof lines such as Let’s Start A Band’s “When there’snothing left to do/Let’s start a band” are missing thepoint – taking it too literally and reading the wordswithout hearing the gut wrenching sadness in the songbehind them.
This is about the break-up of TheLibertines, and if you’ve forgotten how that felt,there’s a song here that will remind you. It felt likethe end of the world, even for those of us who’d beenthere at the break-up of special bands time and timeagain. Like us, she knows that someone else will riseto take their place, but eventually they’ll fall aswell, won’t they? She’s putting herself into thefiring line, standing up to be shot down.
It is in this approach that MacDonald’s real skilllies. There’s heartbreak in her tunes, but coupledwith a shrug of the shoulders and an attempt to pickher self up even though life will knock her downagain. She knows this. You know this. Music won’t savethe world, but it might just carry you through thenight.