As we reach the end of the decade, an inevitable deluge of ‘the best of the noughties’ articles are already appearing – and it’s not unreasonable to suggest that a fair amount of Canadian acts will be featuring on them.
For a country whose previously most famous exports were Celine Dion and Bryan Adams, it’s an astonishing turnaround. The many spotted Wainwrights, Arcade Fire, Hot Hot Heat, Metric, Broken Social Scene and Stars have all done their bit to rehabilitate Canada’s musical reputation.
Amy Millan is, of course, irretrievably linked to the latter of those two names. As part of the Broken Social Scene collective her vocals have been heard of some of the decade’s finest indie-rock, and she’s recorded four albums of beguiling theatrical pop as lead singer of Stars.
Her second solo album is light years away from either of Millan’s previous collaborators. Masters Of The Burial is pleasant, melancholic, MOR pop, heavy on weeping strings and lonesome pedal-steel guitar. It’s lovely in parts, but also ultimately a bit slight.
Not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with ‘adult-orientated pop’ of course, and many of the tracks on here will make a perfect accompaniment with a warm bath and a soothing glass of red wine. Opener Bruised Ghosts and the beautiful cover of Weeping Tiles‘s Old Perfume are perfect examples of bittersweet paeans to lost love.
The skeletal backbeats of Day By Day also impress, as do Millan’s vocals throughout. The lyrics may not be too original but she has a lovely turn of phrase, and gives the sense that she means every word she sings – as on the wistful delivery of Bound’s “I’d rather love you than leave you, my darlin’, but loving’s just not what we do”.
There are also a few cover versions here, of which the most successful is Richard Hawley‘s Run For Me. A Hawley cover is always going to want for the impact of his tremendous voice, but Millan succeeds here by stripping the song of its lush orchestration and framing an atmosphere of frail desolation. It’s one of the highlights of the album.
Less successful is a run through of I Will Follow You Into The Dark by Death Cab For Cutie, more or less a karaoke copy of the original, but with added pedal steel. It’s perfectly pleasant, but doesn’t add anything at all to the original.
Ultimately, what lets down Masters Of The Burial is Millan’s back catalogue. There’s nothing here that can match up to previous career highs such as Your Ex-Lover Is Dead or Ageless Beauty, and with a running time of just over 30 minutes, it seems over before it’s even begun. So if you’re desperate for an album of this ilk, the new Norah Jones record would probably be a wiser investment.