Friday, May 19, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1006: Imelda May

Chris Cornell tragically took his own life Thursday morning at the age of 52. It is still hard to process that he is gone.

I did not start out loving grunge as much as everyone else my age did (I am 46). At the time I was more interested in Celtic folk music. However, my roommate brought a steady stream of grunge into our house throughout the early nineties and I learned to appreciate it.

Of all the bands we listened to, Soundgarden was the first one that appealed to me. With their groovy guitar licks and driving energy, their music energized my soul and Cornell’s voice was one of rock and roll’s all-time greats. Back in the early nineties I was dirt poor, and songs like “Outshined” and “Hunger Strike” spoke deeply to me, giving a voice to the rage and frustration that seethed during some of my blacker days. It ended up being just as therapeutic as the upbeat life-affirming qualities of Celtic folk music.

After I moved out, I ended up missing all those Soundgarden albums, and eventually bought them all – and the ones that were released later besides. When Audioslave came along, I bought those too.

RIP, Chris Cornell. I won’t speculate on what led you to do what you did – there’ll be plenty of people doing that in coming weeks. Instead, I’ll thank you for all the great music, and all the lives you’ve changed through it. You may be gone but your memory will never be outshined.

Disc 1006 is…Life.Love.Flesh.Blood
Artist: Imelda May

Year of Release: 2017

What’s up with the Cover? Herein lies a tale, as gone are Imelda May’s delightful rockabilly style and upswept neo-pompadour hair style. In its place we have a stripped down May, with jet black hair, non-descript outfit and a pensive look on her face.

She’s still alluring as all get-out, but I admit I miss the wild woman look.

How I Came To Know It: I love Imelda May so when I saw she put out a new album I bought it after only hearing two tracks. Some people just get a pass.

How It Stacks Up:  I have four Imelda May albums. I like them all but competition is tight, and I must regretfully put “Life.Love.Flesh.Blood” and its annoying punctuation in fourth place.

Ratings: 3 stars
“Life.Love.Flesh.Blood” doesn’t just feature a fresh haircut for Imelda May, it also represents a shift in her music. Her rockabilly roots are no longer showing, replaced with an interesting mix of pop and lounge-style crooners. It is still a good record, but I missed the wild and rambunctious aesthetic of her earlier records.

The album’s first track is also its best. “Call Me” is a perfect mix of pop and lounge, and May’s voice has never been sweeter as she reaches out tenderly but insistently to a wayward lover. It is a good thing I don’t have May’s number, because I’d be calling her every time this song came on.

May wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the album, and her ability to make a new song sound timeless is as brilliant as ever. “Black Tears” sounds like that last slow song at the end of a 1940s USO dance, where the ladies picked their favourite sailors, crossed their wrists behind their necks and let the music sway their hips just this side of respectable.

This playful sexuality has always been part of Imelda May’s music, but on “Life.Love.Flesh.Blood” she trades the more overt flirtation of earlier records for a more subtle and sultry delivery. The songs are slow seductions, best played in low light.

Lyrically there isn’t anything special going on here, but May delivers the lines with a believability and easy power that helps them punch above their weight.

Her rockabilly roots return briefly on “Bad Habit” where May playfully tells the story of a spendthrift who can’t resist a pair of Louboutins or anything else on sale for that matter. She goes to the doctor to see if she has a problem, but he only replies “there’s nothing wrong with you but your bank account!” Nice.

The album features guest appearances by guitarist Jeff Beck on “Black Tears” and keyboardist Jools Holland on “When It’s My Time” and both artists do a stellar job of playing second fiddle to May. Pompadour or not, she is a frontwoman who cannot be ignored.

The album feels a little too mainstream in places, and songs like “Leave Me Lonely” are good, but sound like the kind of power pop I would hear on the radio (if I ever listened to the radio). I found myself wondering if May was trying for something with a broader appeal. I can’t judge her for that; she’s long been under-appreciated, and has the talent and charisma that should have made her an international star a long time before now.

The record’s final track is “The Girl I Used To Be” which is a stunner of a folk song dressed up in pop clothing. While the song is about May’s childhood and upbringing, it also seems to express an affirmation that while her musical style has shifted a little, she is still very much in touch with her earlier work.

“Life.Love.Flesh.Blood” has less obvious standouts than May’s previous albums, but it is a nice slow burn. I enjoyed it more and more on each listen, appreciating the subtlety of these songs as they crept up on me. It is a good sign for the years to come.

Best tracks: Call Me, Black Tears, Bad Habit, The Girl I Used To Be

1 comment:

Gord Webster said...

Grunge was always a 50-50 proposition for me. Some good, some bad. Didn't like Nirvana and Alice in Chains, but liked Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. I loved Audioslave right from the start though.