Scottish songbird follows up stratospherically successful debut.
Paul Lester 2010-02-26
This is the year that a lot of female artists, from Laura Marling to Duffy and Adele, will be facing the eternal pop dilemma of what to do on that difficult second album. Few will have it as hard as Scottish singer-songwriter Amy Macdonald, whose 2007 debut This Is the Life sold over three million copies and went to number one in five countries.
A Curious Thing, recorded at Paul Weller’s home studio in Surrey and featuring guest spots from the Modfather, doesn’t sound as though Macdonald is feeling the pressure. It is a bold, grand statement of intent, full of songs of epic sweep that build to undeniable choruses, to be enjoyed by the largest possible audiences.
It sounds bigger and more ‘produced’ than This Is the Life – there is no sense of the girl from Bishopbriggs recoiling from the spotlight. That said, there are a number of tracks here about the perils of fame. Of the dozen songs on A Curious Thing, half concern our celebrity-obsessed culture and the cult of personality that Macdonald has witnessed first-hand since her arrival on the world’s stage. On No Roots she is positive about the rock star milieu: “This life I lead, it’s a curious thing, but I can’t deny the happiness it brings”; but on This Pretty Face she is less charitable: “I don’t care who does her hair / Or what clothes she wears.”
Next Big Thing takes a dim though sympathetic view of reality TV wannabes and An Ordinary Life is a dig at the Z-list celebs she saw flocking round actor Gerard Butler at a party last year. On My Only One she sings, with a weary sigh, “There was time when the whole world was looking at you... They changed their minds from day to night.” Finally, there’s first single Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over –about a pop star she recently saw in full pompous effect.
And yet for all that A Curious Thing doesn’t feel bitter or downbeat. If anything, MacDonald appears to have been energised by her colossal success. The music here is richer and fuller, the hooks more emphatic, and her voice meets it head-on, with a stridency and vigour reminiscent of Dolores O’Riordan, even Sinead O’Connor. Even a title such as Give It All Up, which could have been drenched in defeat, is resilient, even defiant. A triumphant return.