Music Reviews

Erin McKeown Grand

(Parlophone) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

I was full of excitement when a copy of Erin McKeown's second album proper (for want of a more erudite description, there's a compilation of Demo's and live stuff from 1999 called Monday Morning Cold floating around somewhere) came through my door three weeks ago. I'd been intrigued by the "post Bjork"/music-hall retro tags which 2000's Distillation had received on its widespread release in the UK, and in a particularly sweaty acoustic tent in Glastonbury my fleeting interest turned into bewildered acclaim. When I reviewed the festival I name-checked her as one of it's highlights but couldn't eloquently write more than three lines about her performance. Put simply, I love the noise Ms McKeown creates, I know why, but I've been hard pushed to possibly describe it to you.

Slung-Lo is a fantastic opener. A truly superb easy-listening song; imagine Bjork toned down on the high notes, then stretched for the subtlety, with McKeown "turning this B-side down to a delight". Cinematic is twinkling Blondie-esque New Wave; but how many twinkling New Wave tunes end with a voice mellowly pronouncing "I begin where Garland died, looked like a child all her life, so will I". There's something slyly incisive about Born To Hum's opening statement that "once in the spring of my twenty fourth year, I had nothing to say", while one guesses that both Aimee Mann and Alanis Morrisette would murder to create an anthem as lightly immersing as Civillians.

McKeown possesses an extraordinary talent for veiling scathing, cutting wit in a way which makes the listener think more about their own situation via the ambiguity in her wordplay (this is so blatantly reading like 'classic' music journalism that I may as well grow an overhang, acquire and clear up a coke habit and then forget that those albums at the back of my shelving mean more than the adjectives they inspire...). Take How To Be A Lady, her suggestion that those seeking the requisite poise "take a look at me" giving way to inferences to "paint your lips a touch too wide, Hide secrets in your mouth, Stand on corners far too long" before a final hint to us guys (I may as well start to build up a bad baseball cap collection) that "to meet a lady. Well, then offer her a ride...". It's almost Dorothy Parker-esque, and that's one MONSTER compliment coming from me. Judy Garland's life and fate is a theme running through this record, and Cosmopolitans is sinister as, but McKeown addresses this subject on her website so I'll move on to praise the lushness of Starlit and the genius of the albums final track, Vera. It evokes thoughts of Abraham Cahan's Yekl, were it re-written as a classy Milan Kundera screenplay for a suitably human Kieslowski touch. McKeown supplies her own blow by blow account of each of the songs offered on Grand, and I'm beyond intrigued, but I haven't read them yet. Somehow it'd feel like cheating...

Grand proved to be everything I hoped for, it's been one of the most heavily played albums in my room/Discman in a month where I've been comfort-buying albums to compensate for long work hours. It's indescribably immediately affecting yet critically elusive (this was going to be the second paragraph of my review and now it's the final one, which I'm writing straight after the first). I now have a load of analogies, but deserved as they are, they can't quite pinpoint the headspace Grand occupies. A friend who doesn't really like listening to music but loves the Beatles was around when I first played it and turned round to me halfway through to say "this is really good", then we listened to it again.

And that's probably the most sincere acclaim I could give to this record.