Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Joan Armatrading‘s debut album Whatever’s for Us, and this year marks both the the 45th anniversary of her most well-loved album (1976’s self-titled), and the 40th anniversary of another of her great works, Walk Under Ladders.
Consequences, her latest, is her 20th studio album, and it continues a run of quality that stretches all the way back to her debut. In case you aren’t already aware, there’s a case to be made that Armatrading is the most underrated artist to ever make art on these shores, and she’s certainly one of the most underrated guitarists of all time. Consequences allows you to see exactly why those claims are not only appropriate, but absolutely necessary.
Despite already blessing the album with her incredibly supple voice (she is now 70 years young), and sumptuous guitar playing, Armatrading plays all of the other instruments and produces the album, making her approach somewhat in line with what Paul McCartney manages to pull off once every few decades. Armatrading is a uniquely powerful artistic entity, make no mistake.
The key songs on the album are the opening trifecta of Natural Rhythm, Already There and To Be Loved, the powerful title track and the glorious closer To Anyone Who Will Listen. To delve into what makes these tracks so special seems particularly insulting when an album is as singularly powerful as this. However, Already There sounds both completely modern (Armatrading’s modernist pop production is key) and utterly timeless, and comes with a classic Armatrading chorus hook. To Be Loved is the opposite of timeless – it has a curiously ’90s stylistic flavour, with the chiming, glassy guitars and layers of reverb-drenched vocals throwing it back to the contemporary sounds of 30 years ago.
And as for the closer, To Anyone Who Will Listen, imagine the most powerful, cinematic ’80s slowburn love ballad, and run it through a contemporary retro-pop filter, and amp up the emotional pull to the maximum output and you’ll be almost close to what Armatrading produces. Why end an album like this with a song like that? Does she want us to cry? God damn.
The key idea is that Consequences is a great later-career work, but this should surprise absolutely nobody. What should surprise is just how little weight has been given to Armatrading’s legendary career. If, like most of us, you’ve undervalued her immense body of work before now, this should serve as a reminder to go back and dive in. Treat yourself.