'Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences'

Scottish sass from the elliptic-eyed entertainer: album review of Amy Macdonald’s ‘A Curious Thing’

leave a comment »

Musically speaking, the only thing I love more than discovering a new artist or band, is discovering an already established artist or band, that I’ve heard some  tracks by but never that one glass slipper of a song that made me sit up and pay attention. I did just that a few weeks ago when I first heard ‘This Pretty Face’ by Amy Macdonald and now I’m very happy to report, that I’m a fully fledged Macdonald fan…though I just need to get mini-me Tracy Barlow out of my head when I pronounce her name out loud.

Amy Macdonald is a 23-year-old singer songwriter from Dunbartonshire, Scotland; producing soft rock and pop tracks as if her mind were a veritable conveyor belt of creativity and musical craftsmanship. Her voice, unsurprisingly and perhaps fittingly in this autotuned age, is her USP; coming somewhere between Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries and a deeper-toned, rock-edged Sharleen Spiteri. The guitar is Macdonald’s weapon of choice and she uses it with skill and finesse, as she attacks her tracks with passion and prose, seldom found in such a young performer.

You might be familiar with Macdonald’s first album and most successful single of the same name, ‘This Is the Life’, released in 2007, with the album selling 3 million copies  to date. She has since achieved considerable success in Europe and released her second album ‘A Curious Thing’ in March, 2010. This record has more soft, almost stadium rock leanings than the former; as Macdonald recounts past friendships, past acquaintances and the past perfect. She talks about staying true to herself, about looking beyond the superficial and ponders where her music will take her in ten years time; understandable musings at the sophomore stage you might say, but I think that there is more to this Scottish sensation than an easy analogy; she appears to be a genuine and down to earth sort, wanting only to write music and lyrics which people enjoy and preferring to shun the celebrity parties and the high gloss temptations. It was this likeable demeanour, as well as the aforementioned ‘This Pretty Face’ track, which brought me to Macdonald’s door and I’ve not stopped knocking just yet.

Kicking off the twelve-strong set with the first release from the album, ‘Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over’, Macdonald gives a rich and empowering soft rock vocal performance, she sounds in control and spirited as she states that (it) ‘isn’t over till the song is sung’; see previous comment on the Scottish sass. I’ve always been particularly struck by Macdonald’s vocal tone, sounding more Irish in origin I think, than her Scottish roots. Perhaps I am just hearing the unmistakable Celtic influences coming through. Either way, it produces a richness and warmth to her contralto range which I think suits the soft rock-pop genre perfectly. Next up is second single ‘Spark’ which is probably my favourite off the album. With its strong guitar hooks and theme of reinvention, the track can’t help but invigorate the listener as Macdonald likens herself to ‘an astronaut in the sky/the light in the dark/the match, the spark’; she is speaking about feeling buoyant, brand new and ready for whatever comes her way. Certainly no ‘O’ by Damian Rice, I think you’ll agree.

‘No Roots’ gives the first opportunity to kick back and bathe in a soft rock ballad, but don’t be fooled as after just a few bars Macdonald builds up to a dreamy acoustic guitar sequence, resulting in yet more classic electric-stringed rock sounds. You could liken the instrumentation on this track to the seasons of the heart or the stages of a common relationship; starting slow and steady with maximum control, building in intensity and passion, taking in various sights and sounds as memories are created and then finally establishing the very roots that she said were lacking in the track’s title. ‘Love Love’ comes next which was the fourth single release from the record. This is an upbeat rock-pop track which caused me to have a particularly random musical connection. With its catchy hook, addictive nature and almost guilty-pleasured fun quality, this track put me in mind of Status Quo. Yes, as I say, random. I think in truth this is a mere recollection of many wonderful weekend nights dancing to ‘Rocking All Over The World’ with my late Nan. My older brother fancied himself to be a DJ at the age of 8 or 9 and had the decks, the microphone, the whole shebang. Nan would babysit us two and my other older brother and our night would consist of watching James Bond films, eating Stix crisps and Skippy bars and then getting down to the grooves of The Quo. Whenever I remember such times I feel that lovely pull of nostalgia and a sense of being really happy in that moment. I could never thank Francis Rossi enough…but back to the artist in question; ‘Love Love’ evokes similar connotations for me, as Macdonald ponders how to express her feelings to that special someone and why her idealised version of romantic events never come true…all against a bouncy electric-dreamed backdrop.

‘An Ordinary Life’ was written after Macdonald stumbled in to a showbiz party in Glasgow, hosted by fellow Scot Gerard Butler. Macdonald recalls seeing men and women fawn over the Hollywood A lister and wondered what his life was like behind the scenes, the cameras and out of the media glare; ‘what makes you happy, what makes you sad.’ Again, Macdonald states that she doesn’t care about the camera or the lights and almost seems to feel sorry for him and his existance…I’m with her on one score, I feel sorry for his dialect coach who has surely been run out of town after the pathetic excuse for an Irish accent he displayed in feature film ‘PS, I Love You.’ Come to think of it, I can’t recall an accent he actually does well, except perhaps his own, and even then I’m a little suspicious. ‘My Only One’ is a tender acoustic ballad dedicated to someone in the spotlight, who has the whole world looking at them and Macdonald is urging them to stand tall and keep true to themselves; perhaps her footballer fiancée? ‘What Happiness Means To Me’ is another poignant number, said to refer to their relationship and her love of those moments of stillness which can provoke such powerful and vivid memories. The track builds with orchestral accompaniment and would be the perfect soundtrack for a rousing and feel good feature film.

Whilst ‘This Pretty Face’ takes a literal pop at celebrity culture and superficiality, ‘Troubled Soul’ delivers a more delicate message. The track opens with vast electric strings, sounding not dissimilar to U2, as Macdonald takes the listener on a journey through expansive landscapes of peace and emotion, waiting for her ‘troubled soul’ to realise that her smile and eyes will be sticking around, so maybe they should too.

I think this is a brilliant second album, perhaps even more impressive than the first and I think that it deserves just such credit. I can only hope that the world Macdonald dreams of; one where people look beyond the surface and never let themselves forget where they came from, will one day become a reality.


Written by shelleyhanveywriter

January 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: