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Amy Macdonald - A Curious Thing

Amy Macdonald, A Curious Thing

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

AMY Macdonald’s debut album This Is The Life became the 10th best selling album of 2008 thanks to hits like the title track and the Scottish singer’s obvious ability to marry her distinct vocals to lively tunes.

Her follow-up, A Curious Thing, confidently – and rather brilliantly – overcomes the ‘difficult second album syndrome’ to sound both more assured, more complete and bolder, bigger and even more lasting.

Recorded at Paul Weller’s home studio in Surrey and embellished by string arrangements, as well as her trademark acoustic guitars and piano, it’s an album that’s brimming with good songs, honest, heartfelt lyricism and a keen mix of feistiness and humility.

The themes are all personal to Macdonald, but relevant to the world as she (and we) see it. There are potshots at the nature of celebrity, revelations about feeling alone and insecure, and a level of honesty that’s refreshing. Yet, the album never seems preachy, precocious or depressing with it.

Rather, it’s an empowering listen in many ways, and proof positive that Macdonald should have another sizeable hit record on her hands.

The standard is set from the get-go, with lead single Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over hitting you with the type of piano/guitar flourish that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Coldplay record (especially the swirling nature of the piano chords), albeit with a vibrant set of vocals that evoke comparisons with singers such as Dolores O’Riordan. The inclusion of string arrangements, meanwhile, lend it a cinematic sweep, and underline the newfound confidence in her songwriting.

The bittersweet nature of her songwriting is evident on Spark, in which Macdonald laments “don’t wanna see the stars, don’t wanna see the moon, don’t wanna see the sun” over the opening moments, before positively asserting “I am the spaceman flying high, I am the astronaut in the sky, don’t worry I’m OK now” over the catchy chorus.

And her own feelings of uncertainty surrounding her celebrity and place in the world are evident throughout the tender, heartfelt No Roots, in which she declares herself “a lonely soul”… but one that hasn’t given up on her dreams, and one who’ll keep on trying. Early on, it’s a slow-building, acoustic charmer that marks the point at which the album really succeeds in capturing your heart.

Macdonald’s tell it like she sees it approach emerges again to winning effect on An Ordinary Life, which takes a welcome [and admittedly brave] pop at Z-list celebs who seek fame for just being able to attract headlines, while Give It All Up unfolds as a vibrant, rock-driven forgiveness anthem that wreaks of personal heartbreak and missed opportunity.

The tender My Only One demonstrates the more intimate side of Macdonald’s sound, and contains some heartbreaking lyrics (“there was time when the whole world was looking at you… they changed their minds from day to night”), while This Pretty Face is an honest lament at the superficiality of beauty that includes some telling guitar contributions from Weller.

Macdonald fully unleashes her inner rock chick on the rousing Next Big Thing, while her ability to construct a memorable epic ballad is evident on the excellent album closer What Happiness Means To Me, which draws once again from the stirring, emotive songwriting approach of bands like Coldplay and Snow Patrol.

Indeed, she doesn’t really put a foot wrong throughout this welcome sophomore session, which really does mark her out as one of the UK’s finest new female artists.

Download picks: Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over, No Roots, An Ordinary Life,Give It All Up, This Pretty Face, What Happiness Means To Me

Track listing:

  1. Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over
  2. Spark
  3. No Roots
  4. Love Love
  5. An Ordinary Life
  6. Give It All Up
  7. My Only One
  8. This Pretty Face
  9. Troubled Soul
  10. Next Big Thing
  11. Your Time Will Come
  12. What Happiness Means To Me
  13. Dancing In The Dark [live in Philadelphia]