Fifth album from prolific, acerbic British singer-songwriter
With a big audience grown from grass roots, a bull-headed independent ethic, a devotion to Costello and Dylan, and a politicised world view, Thea Gilmore is a worthy role model. Avalanche shows the antique influences this generation-defying girl, still only 23, wore on her sleeve have been absorbed now, till her lyrical voice is her own. As the albums pile up, though (last year’s Songs From The Gutter was a double), other limitations are proving harder to shake.
Take those lyrics first. Where it once sounded like Gilmore had played Costello’s “Pills And Soap” two minutes before scribbling (not a bad thing), on Avalanche she deploys an arsenal of metaphor and allusion amounting to a world view. Though there are perhaps too many shop-talk snarls at music business iniquities, these are mostly suggestive of wider sicknesses. The title track especially finds Gilmore reading the runes of an almost neutron-bomb empty English mid-afternoon, the vapour trails of post-9/11 aircraft entwining with kite-tails as unquiet bones push up from railway sidings, a mood of resigned dread completed by Gilmore’s even murmur, melancholy cello, and softly crashing drums. In this atmosphere, the danger of Pop Idol’s disarming of pop music is clear: “Who’s gonna raise a hand/When all we were taught to do is dance/Who’ll be able to stand/After this avalanche.”
“The Cracks” is among songs, then, describing dangerous, drink-caressed love in the face of this gathering storm, a classic of last-gasp, last-orders romance. Elsewhere, though, Gilmore’s music just doesn’t match her lyrical reach. Though her last album quoted Neil Young’s determination to swerve from the middle of the road into the gutter, her band graze the modern MOR of classic rock, sounding, at their worst, like good Dire Straits. It’s a noise only likely to connect to listeners 10 or 20 years older than Gilmore?not the generations now likely to start the fires she wishes for. Though Avalanche is lyrically inspired, and well worth hearing, another push is needed yet before she matches her idols’ boundary-breaking ambition.