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Matter Of Time (EMI/Universal)

Accidentally? No, one gets to #1 accidentally.

Surprisingly? Yes, often: it’s a crapshoot after all and, like the movie business, when it comes to predicting success, no one knows anything. Shockingly? Far too often, especially if you listen to someone grumpy about a pet hate like, say, limp balladeers/soft boys … and hello to you Vance.

But even in these diminished-sales/streaming single tracks/what even is an album? times, finding yourself atop the charts, as Megan McInerney has with her third album, requires a whole lot of things to go right. Some of them practical and foreseeable (like having built up a following with her first two records and getting a few of the singles played on radio); some of them intangible (good songs, good voice, good timing – whatever they all mean); and some – most – out of any individual’s control.

As the official story around Matter Of Time now tells us, for McInerney it began with completely re-recording the record she had ready to release two years ago: saving some songs, rewriting a few, ditching others and creating some new. Lyrically then, she just peeled away what she felt was artifice, what was presenting as representative but really was performative, until, as she explains it, this felt like her.

Why hadn’t she done this in the first place? Maybe an explanation could be found, to borrow out of context from the album, in the line, “I cannot explain, why we’re so afraid/People are just people falling under the weight/Of what we do not say, and it happens every day”.

Of course, every new work has its own story and often enough its own mythology – what the marketing people these days would call its narrative – that will continue building over time, remaining impervious to interjections of what might pass as truth the greater the success. Retrospectively, everything will look fated and everyone will claim some credit for “knowing”. See also grand final victories and election wins.

You quite reasonably may be sceptical of either the remake/remodel tale or its contribution to the success of this record – see above reference to no one knows anything – but you know, none of that matters if you accept another theory: Matter Of Time works because it has mastered what I’ve taken to calling the Adkins Plan.

The Adkins, named after little known London singer Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, is a tricky balancing act that works on two simple seemingly contradictory principles that are in fact complementary. Principle number one is going big excites and elevates, impressing with your power, and convincing the easily led that you are supremely skilled. Principle number two is that what binds you to a listener is being in some way on their level, in their shoes, so playing small keeps you within reach.

This is where McInerney exists. Thrives.

Head On The Pillow, which begins striding out around a minute in and starts to run when the strings kick in 45 seconds later, sees McInerney punch up exultantly, while Understand has a leonine strut that claims territory effortlessly as the lyrics go at you hard – actually, uncharacteristically to the point of florid (“There’s a target on my back, there’s a bullet in my name/Tearing holes in my delight/And I will never be the same”).

In Is It Worth Being Sad, with its firmly marching verses that transform into shoot-for-the-back-of-the-stalls choruses, and On Your Mind, where the voice resonates like a pumped church PA in the verses but drops to wine bar murmuring in the chorus, McInerney can pin you back. Meanwhile in the title track, a low-key, Bristolian undercarriage serves as a springboard for invocation as provocation, while Lifesaver thickens and thickens its surrounds so that it may as well be the entry point for a church choir that is there in spirit.

Even Only Love, which feels like a second cousin to Somebody That I Used to Know in its rhythm and modest scale, sees a middle eight that has McInerney almost vibrating with the force she is tempted to unleash. She’s got the power; she’s got the range, stand back and admire if that’s your thing.

But like the titular artist of The Plan, McInerney contrasts the boom with the trust: the sense that she is being wholly herself, whether it is in the way something ordinary can still make you feel like kicking holes in the wall because dammit people you are hurting, or how that power surge in the vocals is a reclamation of space, but might also be one flick away from implosion.

Tonally this is the intimate subtext, the everyday-ness that pulls everything back to human-scale even as the edifice looms larger and larger sonically. It’s not really my cup of musical tea, but making pop music like this is not easy, and it requires a lot of things to go right. When they do though, and when a whole lot of other things outside the record and outside her control also go right, the result is anything but accidental.


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