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Emmy the Great - First Love

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 2 / 3 / 2009

Emmy the Great - First Love
Label: Absolute
Format: CD


Assured, bittersweet debut album from Emmy the Great, the project of British acoustic singer-songwriter Emma-Lee Moss

Was it only a year ago that to get a prominent spread in the Q Magazine tips of the year section, you were best advised to be a young girl with an acoustic guitar ? All that seems so long ago now, as the next age of the synthesiser has come upon us. The music hype machine is a weird old thing, as I’m sure you all know. In previous years, Emma-Lee Moss (she surely already regrets using ‘The Great’ as a nickname) has enjoyed quite a lot of attention - but just as she gears up to realise what we can politely call a long-awaited first album (others might go for ‘overdue’), the music press has got bored and started hankering for a Human League revival. I have to admit that I’m still stuck in last year’s frame of mind. I wouldn’t need to hear either artist to know that I was going to prefer Emmy The Great to Little Boots. I am, essentially, a man who dearly loves the comforting clang of six steel strings. But even on those terms, this debut album is strikingly good. Ms Moss is quite a talent, and has written a set of songs that are personal, imaginative and memorable. This is an unapologetically middle class album - these songs are all based around characters who face personal traumas, but who clearly enjoy comfortable lifestyles. Dark love songs are set in university halls of residences rather than bed-sits or nightclubs. But whilst that will annoy some, I find it refreshing honest - after all, David Gilmour’s palpable poshness has never been a disadvantage, expect to those mad few who really hate Pink Floyd. Recorded in collaboration with the Earlies, ‘First Love’ is an almost exclusively acoustic album, driven by Moss’ strumming, with piano and violin adding spice to the gentle melodies. And yet, despite this, there is a surprising degree of genuine variety. ‘Easter Parade’, different versions of which feature twice on the album, builds from a gentle start into a choral piece, with a repeated ‘Gloria In Excelsis Deo’ masking the song’s resigned theme. Having once sung in a church choir myself, this song strikes a chord. But it doesn’t ever sound overdone. The album isn’t afraid to drop pop-culture references, but generally does so imaginatively. ‘Dylan’ is a song about you-know who, ridiculing a partner whose failure to explain his obsession with Dylan betrays his cold-hearted nature. Ultimately she dismisses him curtly, "reading an Italian poet from the 15th century is not that hard to do." A similar tone of disappointment comes in '24', where another boyfriend (or is the same one?) is ridiculed for his obsession with the television show whose star had done more in a single minute than he had done in a lifetime. On ‘First Love’, she may be accused of plagiarism. Her memories of her first affair taint a favourite song, ’Hallelujah’, which was playing on the night in question ("the original Leonard Cohen version"). She lifts the melody of that song for this song, but - alas - it produces the weakest moment of the album, with a regrettable rhyme of ‘Hallelujah’ with "bluer>" Far superior is 'MIA', on which the tasteful accompaniment of her band reaches its restrained peak. This is the album’s darkest moment, as the narrator sits next to a deceased friend in a crashed car, waiting to be found and humming along to the compilation tape. It is the line about the correct pronunciation of the singer’s name that is the most affecting, and demonstrates Emmy The Great as having that rare lyrical gift of adding poignancy to the seemingly mundane. The other standout moment is ‘War’, which again demonstrates classical music influences, with a relentless arrangement that evokes the best work of Neil Hannon’s Divine Comedy. ‘First Love’ is an assured debut, from an artist who will surely enjoy a devoted following. She has been labelled as being part of an ‘anti-folk’ movement. I would disregard that. With original subject matter, an unexpected turn of phrase and no shame in turning weary lost love songs into biting put-downs, these songs most resemble those of Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch. What she will produce in the future we can only guess.

Track Listing:-
1 Absentee
2 24
3 We Almost Had A Baby
4 The Easter Parade
5 Dylan
6 On The Museum Island
7 War
8 First Love
10 The Easter Parade part 2
11 Bad Things Coming, We Are Safe
12 Everything Reminds Me Of You
13 City Song
14 Edward Is Dedward
15 A Bowl Collecting Blood
16 Two Steps Forward
17 Canopies And Drapes

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