The familiar face, the trademark hair, the blood red lips, the steely glare, the black leather jacket. This can only Imelda May, this is her new album Tribal and she means business.
Showing no signs of mellowing with motherhood, the London-based Liberties Belle, loved for her unabashed association with rockabilly arguably indulges her love of good old rock ‘n’ roll on this album more than previous releases. On many of these songs it definitely goes up to 11. Opening with the title track – evoking memories of Adam Ant and Suzi Quattro at the same time – this song bounds along with an assured glam-rock swagger. Closely following on its heels is ‘Wild Woman’ a snarling rocker of a tune. May sings “there’s a wild woman living inside of me, a wicked wicked wild woman dyin to be free”. By the end of this rasper you will definitely want to hear it again.
The overriding rock element is dialled back considerably on the next few songs culiminating in ‘Little Pixie’ which is a very obviously a tribute to her baby daughter. It’s a notably fine line writing songs about your kids; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t… as Oasis found out…over and over again. Even though the lyrics here are delicate and understated without ever being schmaltzy or hackneyed, it is the timeless sheen and classy delivery that stops this from becoming yet another “i love my baby” song.
One of May’s strengths has always been her versatility, her ability to turn her obviously gifted vocal chords towards any style, be it torch songs, ballads, jazz, rockabilly etc and again on this album it is the range of songs and styles which keeps the listener interested and involved.
Imelda May and indeed her band sound like they are having an absolute ball rattling through the songs on this album. From the Johnny Cash-esque ‘Hellfire Club’ to the full-on rockabilly of ‘Five Good Men’ to the gothic country twang of ‘The Ghost Of Love’ with the cautionary lyric “judge me once, but don’t judge me twice” they are all performed with an energy and a freedom which possibly has not been present on previous albums.
She can do humour as well as smoulder and you need only listen to ‘Round the bend’, a tune which being fictional or otherwise lists off myriad ways her other half drives her mad, containing the lyrically droll “I wouldn’t have it any other way, I love you though you’re always on Ebay”.
Finishing up with ‘The Right Amount of Wrong’ a raucous rollicking old fashioned belter that Eddie Cochran would be jealous of and which will work excellently as a set-closer for live gigs, closes the book on the strongest collection of songs Imelda May has assembled to date. The greatest tribute that can be paid to this album is that some songs sound like they have been buried in the back of our minds just waiting for Imelda May to come along, dust them off and reclaim them as her own. There are hits, anthems and lullabies and with Tribal, Imelda May continues to impress and surprise in equal measure.