Emmy The Great - 'First Love' album review

Emmy The Great - First Love

The immodestly named Emmy The Great (I can just hear the detractors baying already) has been making waves on the festival circuit for a while now, and at long last she's released a long player we can listen to in the comfort of our homes.

Reminiscent of Belle & Sebastian's early output, 'First Love' has the power to disarm and reward you anew on repeat listens. It contains songs with simple, unobtrusive melodies masking idiosyncratic, literary and often acerbic observations of modern young relationships, the lyrics delivered in Emmy's clear and confident voice.

Emmy will no doubt be dogged by comparisons to last year's anti-folk darling Laura Marling (ooh, that rhyme was accidental, I promise), and there are certainly lines of intersection between them: both are young, precociously bright, and boast some of the finest and distinctive female voices the UK scene has seen for a while. However, whereas Marling's lyrical leanings are more opaque and general in the way that only pure poetry can be, Emmy's are more specific and intellectual.

She references Patti Smith in 'Easter Parade', Dylan in the Celtic hued 'Dylan', and mocks the likes of The Libertines and their mythologizing of a beautiful Albion ('There's no Arcadia...Underneath your pastures green there's earth and there's ash and there's blood'), all with a cockiness which far from being irritating, is actually quite refreshing. Just because she's a girl with a guitar doesn't mean she has to get 100% maudlin and moany Joni on our asses.

Take the way she deals with a lazy boyfriend obsessed with the TV show 24, ironically mocking his red rimmed eyes with the antics of the show's protagonist ('You are still not Charles Bukowski ... [The] man on the screen, he has done more in a minute than you have achieved in your whole entire life'), or her recollections of listening to Leonard Cohen with an ex in the album's title track: 'the thought of you is burnt on my body from the first time you did rewind that line from Hallelujah/The original Leonard Cohen version.' The mischief with which she squeezes this in betrays an appealing self-awareness and sense of humour also present in one of my favourite album tracks, 'We Almost Had A Baby', where the possibility of an accidental pregnancy gives her some bargaining power over a feckless boyfriend: 'I would have liked to/Have something above you'.

So...it's fair to say that this album suggests Emmy's had her fair share of relationship issues, but thankfully there's no self-indulgent, protracted agonising: she's evidently enjoying flexing her lyrical muscles and would rather make the most of her playing and singing than self-analyse. This means she often strays into a rather dark, gallows humour – on 'MIA', she relays a car accident and how, blood smattered and surveying the aftermath, she ponders the pronunciation of the singer MIA's name.

It's great to listen to a female singer-songwriter who manages to have attitude and be enchanting without either a) falling into the trap of obnoxiousness as Lily Allen can sometimes, or b) becoming so sweet and delicate-sounding that she threatens to disappear into insipidity, as Isobel Campbell often does on solo offerings (and believe me it pains me to say that).

Emmy's voice has a body and charisma which enunciates each word plainly, without feigning some kind of urban street cred or faux naïve whispers. The pretty and unfussy musical structures of each song mirror this vocal delivery, being predominantly reliant on simple arrangements between string instruments and rollicking drums.

Although the melodies mask sometimes disquieting lyrics, that's not to say Emmy's words can't also be more straightforwardly emotional ('I hear your name/It's like a choir in the sky'). Unfortunately, this is where things can become less interesting and the success of the album threatens to crash all around her in a morass of cutesiness. It's on tracks like the forgettable 'City Song' that things become that most terrible of adjectives, for both artists and reviewers: nice.

Thankfully this doesn't happen too often; Emmy seems to know her own strengths. This is a debut which bursts with intelligence and which manages to provoke emotion without manipulating listeners with well-trodden lyrical formulas or clichés.

Emmy has been a fixture at Oxford's Truck Festival for a couple of years now - she was already given billing on the main stage in 2008 and I suspect that she will appear much, much nearer sunset in 2009.

A small, dainty and pretty girl with a formidable intellect, 'First Love' is as close to aurally imagining its creator as can be. Recommended.

Emmy The Great on amazon.co.uk

Emmy The Great on amazon.com

Emmy The Great Official Website
Emmy The Great MySpace

By: Lindsey Davis

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