Top critical review
16 people found this helpful
on 11 August 2003
Ok - a few things to declare. One: I really like Thea Gilmore's work - she must be my favourite non-great (not Dylan/Waits etc.)artist ever, I’d love to give this 5 stars, and I hope the album brings her the popular success she deserves. The second stems from the fact that this album does have a lot of electronics on it, which is quite a departure for Thea. So, two: I don't have problem with electronics (I listen to Radiohead), although you might think so after this.
Having cleared up any prejudices lurking in my closet, I'll get on with it. This album is a bit patchy. It has some excellent, vintage Thea songs some of which are certainly among the best she has ever recorded, but the spaces between seem to have been plastered with what seems to me like soporific filler. Lyrically, these ‘filler’ songs are up to the usual high Gilmore standard, with a lot of description of the natural world, and leafing through the lyrics booklet while I listened to the first song, I thought ‘that looks good’. Unfortunately these songs almost work better as poems (which I suspect is how they started out). This is where the electronics can be a problem. If Thea was singing these songs with just an acoustic guitar, she’d be forced to shift about her delivery, and find decent tunes for them, otherwise there’d be nothing. Unfortunately, the electronics on this album allow a moderately interesting background to be produced, while Thea lazily intones the lyrics somewhere in the middle, sounding half asleep, and getting lost in vocal effects (which are unfortunately needed so Thea’s voice doesn’t sound too out of place – effects are like lies – you need more and more to keep them going). If you can see past the expensive sounding rouge (excellent production from Nigel Stonier), these ‘filler’ songs sound like the cracks between the good songs. Without the electronics to tart these songs up, they’d never have made the cut (at least not as they are), and this would be a better album as a result. We’ve heard a lot of female singer-songwriters sound like this, and frankly, it’s boring. Songs like Mainstream are what have helped Thea stand out from the songwriting pack. Unfortunately this album seems to being shuffling her back into it, just when her chart success may be getting her some deserved attention.
This is not a bad album by any means, and I am being a bit stingy – for the good points see the other reviews (I only have so much space, and I’m in rant mode). Some of the songs are very good, the refreshing Mainstream and Heads Will Roll acting like Speed between the come-downs of the ‘filler’ songs. Maybe it’s a masterful track order, and like a previous reviewer said, takes the listener on a roller-coaster. Maybe; but for me this album has too many flat sections to take me on an emotional journey.
What worries me is that people may buy this album on the strength of the Juliet singles, and find themselves disappointed. If you’re one of those people, I’d recommend hearing Rules for Jokers, Songs from the Gutter or (if you can get it) Burning Dorothy first. They are all much more consistently good, and also (deep breath, which will go unelaborated…) more fun. If you’re already a Thea fan, this album is obviously a must. I’ve missed out Lipstick Conspiracies from that list, because I think it suffers from some of the same problems as Avalanche. Conspiracies contains some great songs at the beginning and the end, but suffers from a flabby middle which contains much looser songwriting (verses drag on, choruses aren’t very lively and the tunes aren’t too hot). Although Avalanche is a better album, more profound, and clearly benefiting from some extra years of living, I think the problems come from the same route. On Conspiracies Thea seemed to be exploring writing songs on a larger scale (longer verses etc.), and the instrumental sound was quite different to her debut. In Avalanche Thea is clearly experimenting with the keyboards, and in this more atmospheric world, in some of the songs sharp lyrics and tunes have given way to mood. After Avalanche, Thea=Enya seems a lot less ridiculous than it should do. All of Gilmore’s albums have Thea experimenting to an extent and I’d hate to pigeon-hole anything as ‘vintage Thea’, but many of the songs on this album are, to me, a couple of notches below par for Thea’s usually very high standard (I'd swap the Juliet b-sides for some of the songs on this album). I’m just hoping that a Rules for Jokers emerges from this Lipstick Conspiracies.