Fruit (Source Music)
Here are some truths: Abbe May is indomitable but the Apple algorithm is not infallible.
Load this album into iTunes and it tells you that these songs – the result of a good few years of physical/emotional/mental upheaval and recovery, including a baby born into the wider family – are of “unknown genre”. Unknown? I don’t think so.
Even if you had missed the stylistic movement in Abbe May’s two previous, ground-shifting albums - some leap years from her beginnings as a cracking blues/rock artist - there is no mistaking Fruit for anything but a modern R&B album.
It slides on mid-paced grooves perched between slinky and easy strut, as if there’s no hurry and no weight. Basslines more than guitar lines create the mood, leaving the six-strings to colour commentator roles, or disappear altogether. So much so that when they impose themselves, as happens midway through Like Me Like I Like You, it’s boldly in relief.
While the textures are predominantly smooth, there are jagged little sonic pills buried across the tracks which can explode just behind your ears rather than snag you upfront. When the production strips fripperies away those few oddities stick out like sharp smacks.
Vocals lay over rather than take over melodies, and a contributing rapper rather than the primary vocalist provides the slight edge of agitation. But anger can still seep into songs like a rising tide.
There are musical and lyrical nods to the likes of Ginuwine, LL Cool J and TLC, nods to ‘70s richness and ‘80s slickness, and sex is the subject even when it’s (not very well) hidden away in subtext.
However, for May, sex is not straightforward. Previous visitors to her shores could confirm that, with 2013’s Kiss My Apocalypse an album about the black hole of obsession and desire.
Not that she’s opposed to it. Oh hell no. Even as it chronicles unrequited desire, if Like Me Like I Like You doesn’t have you, well let’s say, frisky, by its end you have no life left below the hips. While even the most moribund Margaret Court type would concede No. 1 Killa is as primal as the flush of teenage need.
Shake Your Thing On And On comes on like that midnight hand on the hip/other hand on the back of your head moment that could go very, very well, or the full Spacey. And Bitchcraft (which was the original title for the album before “sensible” types caused second thoughts) may spell out its name but it isn’t talking wordplay when May sings “Come to me, I’ll show you fire/Tantric tongue twist”.
Elsewhere the self-explanatory Make Love Not Sense mounts an argument (via an Al Green-like smooching, lightly jazz-touched, rhythmic ballad), for not letting others’ rules – be they religious zealots and scared governments or the advice of those who have been broken before – stop us opening up to someone.
However, it’s certainly not a given that sex serves us well with that urge/purge that powers much of Fruit not avoiding the quagmire in which relationships sink beneath the weight of their inadequacies. Or in the case of No.1 Killa, not even a relationship.
Are We Flirting, all predatory bass and nervy guitar ticks before a kind of Adrian Belew arthouse solo, knows it’s in trouble from the start (“I’m not the first and I won’t be the last … you don’t take lovers, you take hostages”) but doesn’t care. “I think we’re flirting and I’m hurtling toward nothing but good luck … I’m not certain that you do give a fuck. Are we flirting?”
Then in Tinderella, things begin well with a swipe right and some excellent one-on-one business, but things get complicated when friends (and her lover's boyfriend) appear in the story and jealousy begins to sneak in. “I don’t think that you like it, when I’m out with my friends/My phone blowing up in my pocket/Girl, I just wanna drink.”
While Doomsday Clock (clocking environmental doom on the near horizon) and I’m Over You (ingrained sexism, casual abuse and financial/power imbalance) address wider issues, and May’s lyrics can at times lean too heavily on genre tropes that shift things away from the personal – where she is at her most compelling - most of the record has its loci closer to home.
How close? Apart from the searing truths about where body/mind/spirit clash rather than intersect, three spoken word interludes (Fruit pts 1, 2 and 3) have May talking about growing up queer and Catholic, but recognising that the shitstorm back then can’t keep you from making the call to live now.
And if you’re going to live you’re going to feel: desire, hurt, laughter, anger, joy. Otherwise, posits Abbe May, what’s the point? No algorithm can answer that. Nor for that matter can May, but Fruit is confirmation she’s not going to stop feeling.