tue 23/07/2024

Album: Thea Gilmore | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Thea Gilmore

Album: Thea Gilmore

Still strident after all these years

Politics is great - but this is like being assaulted with a placard

The artist formerly known as Afterlight returns with her first self-titled album, a collection of songs which “delves into the cracks between the paving slabs of life's big themes” and which explores “the understanding that comes with experience”.

"Nice Normal Woman", the track, which opens the album, was inspired by a quote from Bette Davis in All About Eve (“write me one about a nice normal woman who just shoots her husband”) and it arrives in the world with an 800-frame stop-motion video attached, filmed by Gilmour in her bedroom.

Having chronicled her escape from a toxic relationship in Afterlife, with new one finds Gilmore now “exploring the understanding that comes with experience, choosing her battles and finding out who she is now”.

“She Speaks in Colours” was written as part of BBC Radio 2's 21st Century Folk project, which celebrated the lives and experiences of five people in the north-east of England. It seems a stretch to label this Gilmore album “folk music” (though Gilmore sees Nirvana as folk music) but this is an affecting song, telling the story of Delyth Raffell who lost her 16-year-old daughter, Ellen, to anaphylaxis. Gilmore’s voice is double-tracked, the effect ethereal, dreamy, an atmosphere that prevails elsewhere, “Hope and Fury” for example, and “Home”.

“Talking Out of Tune” is the album’s best track, based around a nicely picked repeated acoustic guitar motif in open tuning and what sounds like a box drum, over which lies a narrative lyric, its close-harmony double-tracked. “The Bright Service”, which closes the album, feels promising until Gilmore stops singing and begins to declaim over a repeated motif. The rhymes pile up:

Born like a tsunami
A one woman army
Took a pharmacy to calm me
I am intimately familiar with the wringer
And when all else was lost
I still had the middle finger

And end with that decade-old business cliché about leaning in, which pops up elsewhere on the album. The words are doubtless well-intentioned, freighted with genuine feeling, Gilmour indeed concerned about hummingbirds lost to the wind. Yet it feels simply self-conscious and tricksy. I’d rather listen to a good rapper.

We’re a long way from Ghosts and Graffiti (2015), a mostly retrospective set that’s deeply fulfilling and something to treasure and which put her firmly in the folk/Americana camp. The sound world when not declamatory, is very same-y, one song much like another. In addition to singing, Gilmour is credited with acoustic and electric guitar, keyboard and piano, bass, and programming. In a couple of instances, songs don’t end or fade, they are simply arrested mid-flight. Effective once, but twice not so much. Perhaps some other creative input might have helped.

The album’s nadir comes at midpoint. “That’s Love, Motherfucker”. With its grungy Bert Weeden-style guitar and shouted lyrics, it feels utterly pointless. No doubt it’s meant to be ironic (“it’s not easy for a girl like me/ walking dictionary/ English GCSE”) but why bother? An album with few redeeming features is taken down a further notch.

It feels simply self-conscious and tricksy. I’d rather listen to a good rapper


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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