Review Summary: A rhinestone cowgirl dragging country music into 2022.
“Nashville”, the opening track on If My Wife New I’d be Dead
, is an absolutely perfect modern country song. Every aspect of “Nashville” absolutely soars, from the strings that play it in, the glitz and glamor of the bells and whistles that fill the sound out and, above all else, the powerhouse voice of CMAT (aka Ciara Mary Alice Thompson). On the surface, the lyrics about running away to Nashville are about as traditional country as one can get, but beneath the surface are lyrics that describe the masking of a deep depression. Throw in references to both the rodeo and K-Pop and you get a song that would get even purest fans of classic country fans singing along with the most ardent popheads. Remarkably, just about any of the eleven songs that follow “Nashville” could also be described in just about the same manner.
What more can be expected from an artist who name drops Dolly Parton and Katy Perry as her two biggest influences and who found her artistic voice after a conversation with Charli XCX? CMAT creates country pop, but not by the way of Dan + Shay or Florida Georgia Line. This is modern country by an artist who clearly respects and deeply understands the history of that musical tradition, but who also isn’t afraid to completely rip up the rule book and embrace the most pop-timist of attitudes. This allows for CMAT to track “No More Virgos”, a number that flirts with electro-pop and sends a knowing wink to the modern obsession of blaming astrology for all of our personal faults, directly after “Peter Bogdanovich”, an old-school psychedelic-tinged love song in which CMAT asks for the famed filmmaker to cheat on his wife. If My Wife New I’d be Dead
is tied to the anchor of country music, but the atmosphere created is more reflective of a pop megastar. If anything, calling CMAT’s debut a country album is disingenuous. If My Wife New I’d be Dead
brilliantly uses country aesthetics, but it’s a pop album at its extremely witty core.
CMAT takes advantage of wit in her lyrics to entertain, but also to make the emotional moments across the album even more acute. “Geography Teacher” is an incredibly tender song about self worth that begins with the lyrics “I feel so rock 'n' roll/But I look like a secondary geography teacher/And carry myself like a delicatessen ham”. “I Wanna Be a Cowboy, Baby!” is a premise that may sound ridiculous coming from an emerging Irish pop star in the year 2022, but in reality is a melancholic bop describing isolation and a type of freedom women aren’t afforded because, to quote an interview given by CMAT, “they are always being told that the pursuit of independence is a reckless act which jeopardizes your safety. I'm sick of it. I just wanna be a cowboy.” There is a proud and intentional thread of hyper-femininity throughout If My Wife New I’d be Dead
, as well as throughout all of CMAT’s performance choices. To quote the same Irish Times interview, “It’s a decision I made to exaggerate my own femininity for the sake of performance and the sake of the song.” This is a decision that pays dividends, as it creates both an unabashedly unique and entirely genuine atmosphere.
CMAT describes herself as a global pop star and certainly performs and writes music as if she is one. There is both a braggadocios confidence and an honest humility across all of If My Wife New I’d be Dead
, a masterfully created dichotomy that is at the center of everything that CMAT creates. These are songs that would invoke all of the same emotions whether they were played in a sold out stadium or a Nashville bar in the Broadway District. There are multiple worlds that CMAT’s music could fit into, but she has no desire to be in just one - She’d rather create a world entirely of her own, a world where everyone is invited in. I would say CMAT is one to watch for the future, but she already says she’s a global pop star and, frankly, who am I to argue that fact?