Review Summary: Electrifying Amy.
It is always interesting – and often telling – to see which songs an artist chooses to cover over the span of their career. One band may decide to perform a song that is as close to their sound as possible, while another will choose to go in exactly the opposite direction. Then there are musicians who could decide to cover an easy song so that they can claim they have improved the original, while other artists will intentionally test themselves on a track they know they cannot better. In the case of 22 year old Scottish singer-songwriter Amy MacDonald, it is extremely telling that the unlisted hidden track which closes her second album ‘A Curious Thing’ is a wholehearted live acoustic rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’.
Selling over three million copies, MacDonald’s superb 2007 debut LP ‘This Is The Life’ showcased an ambitious, sincere and mature story-teller with strong, self-assured vocals… Not unlike the key traits which The Boss had displayed decades before her, and still does to this very day. On an album loaded with potential singles, the fantastic acoustic melodies struck a chord with the European mainstream populous. Yet, on even the catchiest of numbers, MacDonald layered her songs with a rootsy element that also attracted admirers of folk and indie music. And just like The Boss’ early maturation between releases, MacDonald resists stagnation on a rockier and more polished follow-up which could very well attract an even larger audience to her music.
The fuller, punchier sound is immediately apparent on opener and lead single ‘Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over’, which begins with soaring electric guitar before keys, strings and Amy’s own acoustic guitar prowess merge to provide the album’s most commercial cut. The not too dissimilar ‘An Ordinary Life’ is just as effective, while drums are also much more prevalent than on her debut, with many songs containing a strong beat that drives them. This is not too suggest that MacDonald has totally dispensed with her trademark stripped-down sound, as seen on the first half of the multi-faceted and clearly personal ‘I Got No Roots’. Better yet, are the gorgeous, heartfelt acoustic ballad ‘My Only One’ and lovely sparse piano ballad ‘What Happiness Means To Me’, both of which beautifully incorporate a sweeping strings arrangement as they progress.
Once again, MacDonald impressively displays a beyond-her-years talent for interesting storytelling on ‘A Curious Thing’. Detailed and perceptive, lyrics are often not as easily interpreted as one would initially believe. For example; the “spacemen” and “astronauts” in second single ‘Spark’ are actually a reference to murdered two year old James Bulger. If MacDonald falters at all, it is her over-use of the “dealing with fame” theme, especially on the three track sequence from the country twang of ‘This Pretty Face’ through to ‘Next Big Thing’. Of course, it is still extremely easy to be wooed by Amy’s stunning and mesmerizing voice. With her enchanting Scottish accent, only the most content man will rebuff her when MacDonald pleads “Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over”, while her forceful delivery is entirely convincing when later stating that she “doesn’t care about the cameras and spotlights, because all she wants is an ordinary life”.
‘A Curious Thing’ may initially disappoint some listeners, since it does not match the overall quality of its predecessor. However, in the grand scheme of things, the edgier, more rock-oriented sound is the natural progression that Amy MacDonald was likely to make after touring with a full band for two years. Furthermore, the progression was almost required to continue the evolution of such a gifted artist. The peaks may not be as high here as on her debut, but the level of consistency and lack of filler is undoubtedly still a selling point. Meanwhile, MacDonald always keeps a keen ear for a memorable melody, no matter what the pace of a song is. On ‘An Ordinary Life’, Amy MacDonald ponders “I don’t know where I’ll be in ten years time, where will the music take me?” If there is any justice in the music industry, then this talented young songstress will continue to evolve and still be treating us all to some wonderful recordings.
Recommended Tracks: Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over, My Only One, An Ordinary Life & What Happiness Means To Me / Dancing In The Dark.