Album Reviews

Emmy The Great – First Love

(Close Harbour) UK release date: 2 February 2009


Last year it was difficult to escape from young, winsome folky types, with Noah & The Whale, Johnny Flynn and most successfully Laura Marling, all delivering terrific debut albums.

Yet there was one impossibly youthful songwriter who seemed to escape press attention, probably because she was too busy touring to record an album. So, after seemingly endless tiny gigs and a succession of demos leaked onto the internet, we have, at last, the debut album from Emma Lee Moss aka Emmy The Great.

The atmosphere of the album will be familiar to any fans of the artist she seems most inextricably linked with, Laura Marling. Most of the tracks are quiet hushes of songs, with the pace only picking up occasionally. Yet this plays to Emmy’s strengths, letting her strong, clear voice shine, and demonstrating just how good her lyrics can be.

Those lyrics are intriguing, to say the least. There aren’t many other songwriters out there who could write about the aftermath of a car crash by pondering the correct way to pronounce M.I.A. or expertly dissect a boyfriend who spends all his time watching box sets of 24.

There’s also religious imagery woven all over the place, with the opening Absentee quoting “Kyrie Elison” and Easter Parade following in the footsteps of both Patti Smith and U2 by borrowing “Gloria in excelsis”. Mostly however, the main topic is that well-trodden ground of relationships, albeit written with a real poetic ear.

The title track sees mention of two lovers lying in bed listening to a jammed cassette of Hallelujah (“the original Leonard Cohen version” just in case you had Emmy down as an Alexandra Burke fan…) and it’s a beautifully sketched portrait. Dylan, meanwhile, sees her skewering a pretentious beau who tells her that the titular songwriting legend is “a sentiment that you don’t wanna share” with lines like “reading an Italian novel from the 13th century is not that hard to do”.

There’s also a dark edge lurking behind Moss’ deceptively pretty songs. We Almost Had A Baby sees Emmy fantasising about faking a pregnancy just to have the upper hand on her ex-boyfriend, while the closing City Song effortlessly conjures up brilliant lines such as “the morning fills my mouth up with decay, but I like it, it reminds me how you taste”.

The album is also given a bit of muscle courtesy of Moss’ band, with the many months of touring obviously paying off. Dylan begins languid and lazy before developing into an infectious jig, while the Michael Nyman-esque War beautifully melds together piano, strings and guitar before exploding into life for the last 30 seconds.

Unusually for a debut, there’s not too much filler (apart from maybe the short interlude of Easter Parade 2), and the only disappointment is that there’s no studio versions of well-loved early songs such as Canopies & Grapes and Edward Is Dedward.

In fact, the only problem that Emmy The Great may experience is that too many people may decide that young folk singers are “last year’s thing”, with so many quirky synth-led songwriters suddenly appearing in 2009. That would be a grave mistake to make though, for First Love is a promising, and at times deeply impressive, debut album.


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More on Emmy The Great
Emmy The Great @ Islington Assembly Hall, London
London Gigs: 21-27 March 2016
This Music Made Me: Emmy The Great
Emmy The Great – Second Love
Emmy The Great and Tim Wheeler @ Scala, London