To The Sunset (Thirty Tigers/Cooking Vinyl)
Amanda Shires, now on her fifth solo album, declares “maybe moving forward is my only ambition, never let myself turn around”, and you’d have to say that To The Sunset lives up to that, from title onwards.
Whether sounding like the Black Crowes in louche swagger mode, escalating a New Wave jangle from mindful to a damn the torpedoes call for that final champagne as the “shit show” of life might be poised to end (apparently inspired by what the tabloids like to call a near death experience in a plane), or adding a healthy dose of Tori Amos’ edge to both atmosphere and attitude, Shires isn’t bothering with sticking with what she’s done before.
Crossing genres and territories like she’s in a long-haul drive cross as many states in the south and west as she can manage before the money runs out, Shires turns most things to her advantage so that demarcation lines between country and rock and whatever you choose to call roots/Americana/alt.country become irrelevant.
There’s moodiness and slow reacting pleasure in the organ-heavy opening song Parking Lot Pirouette, which soars in the choruses like a rocket shooting into clear skies, and that moodiness takes on a Reckoning-era R.E.M tone in Take On The Dark. In Mirror, Mirror the background peels back from opaque to allow light in without quite losing the closed-in atmosphere. And Wasn’t I Paying Attention and the sneakier moves of Charms have the piqued Hollywood gloss of Jenny Lewis.
If that is true for the musical turns here, it’s equally true for the lyrics, where comically bad love, tragically bad choices, piss-taking philosophising and gut-punching honesty are not only frank – that’s the currency after all – but insightful. Ask any parent. Or neighbour of someone who puts religion before all, including comprehension.
Or indeed, ask anyone who has felt sense succumb to lust. “Storms rock the window panes every day/Shades of neglect in fishtank-green/And I envy your clothes/How'd they get to be so close?/I can't leave it alone.”
Though there’s precious little to laugh about in Wasn’t I Paying Attention’s devastating storyline which culminates in the kind of straightforward but shocking behaviour that comes without warning, in a song about it coming without warning.
Not that this should suggest Shires has no trust in either joy or joyful coupling (hey, Gwyneth Paltrow, you’re welcome to borrow that), whether in the playful storyline of the album’s opening song – “Last night you walked me to my car/You said ‘You won't be getting far before you turn around’/I did a parking lot pirouette/I said ‘You're right, I'm not done with you yet’.” – or the way Swimmer advances that emotion with pleasure.
“The way you walked into the room/If I was a flower I would've opened up and bloomed/I say I don't care, but I'm a liar/Look how easy a heart can catch on fire.”.