spotlighting voice and pen

Titanic Days (IRS)
Kirsty MacColl

By Allen Howie

Kirsty MacColl makes music that manages to be pretty and edgy all at once. Her newest release, Titanic Days, is no exception, again showcasing her dual talents as writer and singer. The overall sound recalls the Housemartins or The Beautiful South, but replacing their quirkiness with a naked emotionalism.

The opening number, "You Know It's You," is a perfect example, a simple love song that turns unsettling below the surface – "I want arms that never held me/To wrap themselves around me/And not to let me down too gently/I need something to look forward to."

"Soho Square" wraps up all the contradictions of falling into and out of love in one gorgeous package, while "Angel" chains a pretty, drowsy melody to a shambling hip-hop beat – and makes it work. "Last Day of Summer" is its polar opposite, a melancholy memory breezing along on an airy acoustic arrangement.

The record stumbles into much darker territory at its center. "Bad" distills the essence of MacColl: a perky, hummable melody with lyrics sung so sweetly that the premonition coiled around every line sneaks up in startling fashion. That feeling of dread erupts into the chilling rhythmic riptide of "Can't Stop Killing You." Co-written with Johnny Marr, it's a snapshot of domestic violence made more terrifying in its inevitable repetition and the inability of either party to stop.

Often, MacColl denies you the luxury of knowing precisely what she's thinking: the lush title track involves a forced act of bondage, yet it's unclear what the victim thinks, or whether she even sees herself as a victim. When she sings the last line– "Do you ever get that sinking feeling?" – she makes sure that you do.

When MacColl finds solace, it's often in her dreams, as in the blissful lethargy of "Don't Go Home" or the visions frozen in "Just Woke Up." Over a wonderful British Invasion backdrop, she launches a scathing attack set against a "Big Boy on a Saturday Night," a song that's loaded with hooks in every sense.

"Tomorrow Never Comes" closes the album, as MacColl goes up against her regrets, gaining the upper hand if only for the moment. As the singer acknowledges throughout the album, it's the struggle itself that awakens us, a perspective that breathes life into Titanic Days.