Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts

a miscellany of the wonderful and the banal

Posts Tagged ‘album

Review: Emmy the Great, “Virtue”

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Album cover showing Emmy next to a gingerbread house

I was fortunate enough to see Emmy perform some of the material from this album at the Purcell Room at the South Bank Centre back in March (which is, by the way, an excellent venue to experience any kind of music in, given how perfectly acoustically designed it is for listening), and so listening to the album now does tend to bring back images of blue filtered lights and Emmy tapping hypnotically at a string of sleigh bells. It also moves me to use that tired old saw of reviewing, “it sounds better live”, with the addendum “please don’t listen to this album through rubbish laptop speakers”. Really, Ms Moss’s voice deserves better reproduction than that.

As to the album itself, I suspect the term “mature” should be used to describe what has happened both to the subject matter and the lyrics; imagine a whole album of “Absentee”, with the aching undercurrent of loss toned down to barely subliminal levels. This is what maturity means in writing – becoming more literary, with more allusions to more out-of-sight touchstones that can be appreciated by a wider audience, but losing some of the bite that characterised First Love.

“Creation”, for example, is an examination of the coming-of-age story and the way it is always focussed on the achievements and trials of the young man, never the young woman; it is musically beautiful with hints of threat, and Emmy’s voice has become clearer and more powerful with time, it is a more passionate and chilling essay than anything anyone has ever written in their exercise books come exam time, but it is still an essay.

“Cassandra” is one of the the more solid songs on this album, and has been the one which caught in my head for the longest. The song itself cycles through images and notes on the unavoidable nature of beginnings and endings, with the motif of Cassandra (“keep it down”), the tragically-ignored prophetess of Greek legend, revising itself downward toward the question that makes up the backbone of it all: “What good is love if it always ends?”.

“Iris” is an uptempo track, which makes skillful use of dissonance; the twinkly melody and mentions of radiance bouncing off “what if the sight of you could take my eyes”. Like “Cassandra”, Iris is a single-statement/question song, in this instance, what the word is for the emotion the narrator or the subject (it’s not clear) is experiencing. It seems a little empty, made up of syllables to encase the central question, unlike the capsule stories which filled out much of First Love.

“A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep” is, along with “Dinosaur Sex”, for me the stand-out track on this album; performed at the Purcell Room gig as the first of Emmy’s new material it produced shivers under the blue light, and the floral imagery seemed to crawl along the verses as it does over the walls of the house in the lyrics, punctured and punctuated by reference to pipes running bleach, or pipes running bone. Ordinarily I am not a great fan of anything which declares “I am a w0man” (being raised by second-wavers tends to leave one groaning “oh not this bloody affirmation again”), but as with “We Almost Had A Baby”, the shadows at the edge of the words keep the affirrmation from becoming too saccharine.

Leaving my favourite song from this album for last, there is “Dinosaur Sex”, which I am going to include a video of (from the performance of it that I saw, in fact – isn’t YouTube wonderful?).

“Dinosaur Sex” has a broader, almost country feel to it musically, and shows a return to the darker and more final imagery and language which I am more familiar with from songs like “Paper Trails” and “Two Steps Forward”. The chorus is simple and catchy, the verses haunting and somehow sounding like the memory of long-ago summers. It is a very evocative and ties in with “Cassandra”, prophecying doom in sweet tones.

In conclusion, then, Virtue is a more mature album, a more literary album, but one which in moving away from the adolescent themes of death and love has lost some of the emotional weight that First Love carried; however, almost all of the songs Virtue contains are given a significant polish by being performed live, so if it is possible I would advise going to see Emmy’s gigs.

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Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

June 23, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer: I Say!

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My boyfriend likes to buy presents for me which are actually presents for him; fortunately for peace in the household this Christmas, he opted to give me something which both of us could enjoy – the latest long-player from Chap-hop superstar and rival of Professor Elemental, the great (but appropriately humble) Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer, entitled I Say!. I also have this most excellent Chap’s first album, Flattery Not Included, which I thoroughly recommend.

I Say! album cover

Tracks:

1. Hail the Chap
2. Lord Byron
3. Shoot the Cuff
4. You Just Can’t
5. Guy Debord
6. How Many Brilliant Minds Are Lost to Work?
7. A Thoroughly Modern Break-up
8. I Say, You!
9. Everything Stops for Acid
10. Hermitage Shanks
11. Crazy Knights
12. Lady C
13. Let’s Get This Over and Done With
14. The Impossible Dream
15. Songs for Acid Edward

Hail the Chap

Being a gentleman of impeccable manners, Mr B typically begins his records with introductions; in this instance he lays down the origin of Chappism and the “ten rules of the Chap Manifesto”, in reference to both the oft-applauded Chap Magazine, who in effect were the vanguard of the Chappist movement and the originators of the rather entertaining and heavily-attended annual Chap Olympiad, and to the excellent Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip song, “Thou Shalt Always Kill” (“Thou shalt always doff thy hat.”).¬† Off to a good start, then, with his very English wordplay (“We’ve upped our standards, now up yours too!”) and frenetic banjolele strumming. Marvelous.

Lord Byron

Naturally the place to look for commentary on the hazards of fame turning someone into a wanker who refuses to acknowledge his friends is in a chap-hop song concerning the famously arrogant Romantic poet. “We’d been out on the sherry three nights on the trot, but when I knocked on your door this is what I got: ‘Lord Byron doesn’t accept requests from fans’ – I can’t believe the ruddy cheek of the man!” It references Beau Brummel, but there is a certain issue of imperfect scanning and perhaps a little less good production on this track than on those from Flattery Not Included.

Shoot the Cuff

The thing about Mr B’s tracks is that they are almost always parodies of popular hip-hop or dance tracks, and the problem with that is that my hip-hop education is woefully lacking. Dance music I stand slightly more chance of identifying, but as a far-from-afficionado who came to the genre via indie, metal, techno, and trance, I haven’t the foggiest to which this song refers. A shame, but no great loss as I find it’s just as bouncy and charming in my ignorance as I’m sure it would be in my ignorance. “Button up your shirt unless you wear a cravat” is also a sentiment this blogger can get behind.

You Just Can’t

This song because with a sheep sound effect. I’m not sure this bodes well. Ah, I see, it’s a cautionary tale about how one can’t rape a goat because it’ll end up on Facebook.

Guy Debord

Yes, that Guy Debord. Pronounced “G-ee”, as the song informs me. This track is noteable for the lengthy playout and rather pleasant brass solo; apparently “boredom can never ever be revolutionary”, a message which will doubtless pain and then be discarded by the audience of hipsters.

How Many Brilliant Minds Are Lost to Work?

Once upon at time your dear blogger scribbled a partly-plagiarised poem combining the witticism “work is the bane of the drinking classes” (ascribed to Oscar Wilde, although as Dorothy Parker noted, that’s no guarantee of its origin!); Mr B here has done a rather better job in advising his listeners to “get off your phones and back on your arses”, and creating a perky pean to the art of slacking off and knocking a few back.

A Thoroughly Modern Break-up

Apparently Mr B wants his tits back. I mean Рoh, a wanking reference  Рthat this is an unexpectedly upfront (pun very much intended) piece of bawd from the Gentleman Rhymer regarding a failed relationship and his desire to remove the breast implants that he paid for. A little childish and possibly out of keeping with the Chap Manifesto, but very funny all the same.

I Say, You!

Straightforward parody of Hey! You by the Rock Steady Crew. Not sure what else there is to be said about it aside from Mr B is causing a broadening in my musical knowledge.

Everything Stops for Acid

For some reason I am picturing this being MC’d by a clown. That is all.

Hermitage Shanks

It’s a song in praise of the people who manifacture lavatories and other bathroom furniture, in which all the rudery is left to the imagination with the glaring omission of the rhyming word, in finest end-of-the-pier entertainer style. The intimated coyness of sidling up to an explicit description of the obscene but catching himself just in time and the juvenility of writing an entire song devoted to the smallest room are so quintessentially English that it’s almost enough to make me consider this – very briefly – as an alternative National Anthem. I’m not exaggerating the brevity of my consideration, though.

Crazy Knights

Gentle mocking of the Kiss song/album; Mr B’s idea of a “crazy night” may not line up with that of the average rock ‘n’ roller but to me it sounds extremely enticing. Except the part about early nights, which I have yet to master. Again it is a fairly straightforward parody/mockery, and what with Kiss not being a hip-hop group Mr B is somewhat straying from his remit.

Lady C

A dancefloor-filling track at any Chappist event, presuming that the floor will fill entirely with ladies, right up until the part where Mr B has to be bleeped out for saying “wankstain”.

Let’s Get This Over and Done With

The biannual battlecry of the genteel when faced with the noisy enthusiasm and flag-flying of the Euro Whatsit Football Thing or the World Cup has long been “let’s get this over with and get back to the cricket.” Set to a tune immediately recognisible to most as “that bit from The Great Escape“, this is a firm march through the loutishness of the World Cu, hurling a bridge of criticism of the “nouve-riche” and the failings of the modern footballing elite, featuring penny whistles, an “aaahing” chorus, and the strong desire for a cucumber sandwich. Easily the best football anthem my country has ever produced.

The Impossible Dream

“To fight for the right to make ‘party’ a noun, and have those who use it as a verb run down” numbers among the ambitions of Mr B’s impossible dream – “to make hip-hop gentlemanly”. I think he may be fighting a losing battle there, especially as this song is far more West End than West Side.
Songs for Acid Edward

Several immediately recognisible parodic references here, from “Move Any Mountain” by the Shamen through a menagerie of much loved trite dance classics. Don’t take my word for that – watch the video.

Overall, then, a charming album although if I’m honest it lacks a little of the novelty value and enthusiasm of its predecessor, and the “hissing record” noisebed has been somewhat overused. Still, he is a jolly good banjolele-playing, and Mr B does have a very fine moustache…

Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

December 27, 2010 at 3:01 am