In the two years since the release of the multi-platinum album Love Tattoo Imelda May has sung at the Grammys, appeared at Glastonbury and answered thousands of questions about growing up in the Liberties. The inner city life theme seemed to dominate most interviews but with the hugely positive international response, it looks like Imelda can think beyond the Liberties these days.
On Mayhem, her confidence is clear from the opening track, ‘Pulling the Rug’, which has a bright yet laid back buzz. Clapping and sweet backing vocals add layers and several guitar interludes spring the pace back and forth. “The good life came calling” she sings, and you can hear it in her voice. It’s relaxed and flows beautifully through the track. ‘Mayhem’ and ‘Eternity’ contain jangly guitars and simple rhythms are a great frame for Imelda to hang her lyrics on. One of her strengths is a feel for fitting lyrics perfectly to a rhythm. Not a single word feels clunky or unnecessary. ‘Bury My Troubles’ showcases this skill to perfection. It has more of a swing sound than other tracks and her vocal control and emphasis on certain consonants creates an atmosphere to match the positive tone of the title of the track.
‘Too Sad To Cry’ opens with a funereal trumpet wail and a marching drum rhythm with twanging guitars and is a dark, beautiful dirge. Her voice sounds best on songs like this. She absolutely pulls off the faster, rockabilly songs but she shines on the slower ballads. ‘Kentish Town Waltz’ is a standout from the first listen with its lyrics that are a mix of soppy love song prose and Irish colloquialisms. It’s cheesy but irresistible.
A few tracks don’t quite work. ‘Psycho’ uses distortion on her vocals which just end up sounding slightly nasal. This coupled with several high pitched yelps at the end of phrases just sounds like an unhelpful effect on what might otherwise have been a decent song. ‘Sneaky Freak’ just seems totally out of place with the rest of the tracks. The lyrics are weak, there’s an echoing voice distortion and it just sounds repetitive and little else. A cover of ‘Tainted Love’ seems like a pedestrian choice for a closing track. It suits her in live performance and is a total crowd pleaser but here just dulls the end of album.
These misses, though disappointing, don’t take away from the quality of the other tracks. It’s great to hear an artist that is repeatedly pigeon-holed as “rockabilly” experiment with hints of other genres and to hear the development in her vocal confidence after the success of Love Tattoo. Onwards and upwards.