Woman (Mount Silver/Caroline)
For an album about the way we’re befouling not just the environment but our spirits with policies which treat humans as inconveniences and inputs at best, Woman is amazingly exuberant.
Maybe because Wallis Bird, an Irishwoman based in Berlin, who writes everything, plays almost everything and co-produces it all, is a believer. In us.
Which is no small thing when anyone from Boris Johnson and the AfD to Scott Morrison and melting Arctic ice – not to mention Labor governments trying to criminalise protests, and fires burning all before it in California, Sweden and NSW – seemingly present compelling arguments to give up all hope right now.
“I am an angry pacifist/That’s what life is for,” Bird sings in the Pogues-on-the-good-drugs charge of That’s What Life Is For, with a reminder though that she’s not just here for the drivel. “I’ll trust my instincts, they’ll help me through/If it smells like bullshit it is probably is true, hey/I’ll do me and you’ll do you.”
So she can work up a half electronic/half beachfront Latin rhythm in Life Is Long to make you feel that even when she says “Life is long but time is short” you might yet dance to that end, and lay down some husky funk for Salve! to make that low-on-the-hips bass a good humoured partner.
It’s worth pointing out at this point that the album opens with a vigorous pop/rock run of breathy backing vocals, rollicking drums and escalating urgency in her lead voice, in As The River Flows, which is dedicated to the Syrian refugee child whose body washed up on a European beach a few years ago.
Her sympathies are clear (“Looking for more than we were offered/Are we not allowed?”) as is her querulous tone to our leaders as she demands they not turn their faces away (“Don’t tell me borders are for jobs and civic order/When I know you see it differently/You want your palate white, you want it cleaned”).
So, yeah, she’s not a cockeyed optimist, nor prone to lengthy treatises either: the 11 songs are done, dusted and poised for repeat after a mere 36 minutes. But that still leaves plenty of room for movement, including into the personal and not just the existential. Or in the case of I Know What I’m Offering, a teetering on the brink slice of ‘70s-meets-‘90s R&B, the sensual and not just the intellectual.
In the slow-burn soul ballad (with a touch of doo wop in the backing vocals) Woman Oh Woman, she confesses a history of taking things too seriously, admits to some foolishness, but metaphorically drops to her knees like a young James Carr to say that whatever else has happened, “I’m your woman, you are mine”.
That’s spun around in the aforementioned Salve!, which sounds like Eurythmics after the guitars and piano took over from the synths and funky bounce took over from glacial cool, as Bird asks to (or suggests we should) be let back in to be healed. And it’s hard to say no.
Throw in abortion law reform in Ireland and black lives matter and that’s a lot to pack into 36 minutes, especially as apparently it’s better to throw some thoughts and prayers rather than action at the problems, right Gladys, Donald and Scott?
But waiting’s not for Bird. As she says in the mid-tempo, leaning into jazz funk, Grace, “this is the right time”.