Album Review: Amy Macdonald – ‘Life in a Beautiful Light’

Amy Macdonald – ‘Life in a Beautiful Light’: 7.4

Amy MacDonald is a big popstar. Perhaps not in the UK, but her soaring, transcendent folk rock has taken her far afield of her little Glasgow town of Bishopbriggs. Her début album sold over four million copies, and she’s about to launch the STV Appeal 2012 (a charity aiming to improve the life of disadvantaged children in Scotland) by performing five different gigs in five different cities in one single day. And even after being launched into stratospheric success in 2007 with her début ‘This Is The Life’, she’s far from falling victim of what she calls, on her new album ‘Life in a Beautiful Light’, “The game you call the fame” (from the sky-flying mid-album anthem ‘The Game’) – as far as she’s concerned she’s still the same young Glaswegian with a guitar and a pretty voice; she’s embarrassed by swarms of fans asking for autographs; and she’s more comfortable in a dimly lit pub than on an enormous stage. And yet, to so many of her fans she’s a great deal more. When listening to Amy Macdonald you don’t get the feeling you’re listening to one of the new radicals dominating the female artist corner of the industry with new-age theatrics and avant-garde sounds. Instead there’s a welcoming sense of homeliness that’s hard to trace even in the music of artists similar to Macdonald. She’s often considered the more accessible, rockier version of Laura Marling, opting for tangible subjects that are far easily appreciated without the pretentious poetry that often dampens their emotive resonance. It’s evident even in her album title, simplistic but thought-provoking – once again containing the word “Life”, just as her début does (2010’s ‘A Curious Thing’ is as equally fondly titled: it took its title from her song ‘No Roots’, and more specifically the lyrics “This life I lead it’s a curious thing, but I can’t deny the happiness it brings”). And it’s as crystal clear now as it was back then that the themes to any Amy Macdonald album are strummed heartily alongside her warm recognition of the sheer wonder, the mystery, the beauty, the celebration and most of all, the joy of life.

The album opens with the lyric “Well, the first day of spring, well it came and gone and the summer did too, but winter’s so long” on the bright folk rock of ‘4th of July’. Built on a breezy mix of horns, drums and a gentle guitar strum, it gives you everything a listener wants from the first track on an Amy Macdonald album. It’s no brash statement, no ridiculous spoken introduction or musical bolt-on; just a heartfelt, buoyant synthesis of stadium sized chorus and intimate verses whose lyrics can’t help but bring a peaceful smile in receipt of their idyllically romantic flair. This themed is echoed for second track ‘Pride’, only with the recipient of Macdonald’s devotion being her native town of Bishopbriggs, and then again on first single ‘Slow It Down’, whose wonderful mix of traditional folk chord progressions and modern riffs make it an absolute standout.

A lot of people argue that Amy’s music is simply too predictable after two albums worth, but after the more stadium-sized ‘A Curious Thing’, Amy has clearly returned to her more comfortable intimate scale, and the predictability is no issue here, still effortlessly flaunting her ability to approach often difficult subject matters head-on with a delicate hand and utmost conviction. ‘Left That Body Long Ago’ sees her booming voice poignantly tell the story of her grandmother’s decline after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and ‘Across The Nile’ mimics the musical style of her début album’s track ‘L.A.’ whilst discussing the recent socio-political unrest in Egypt during the Arab Spring. But in true Amy style, there’s an acute awareness of the need for balance and harmony, and she ensures ‘Life in a Beautiful Light’ retains its heart-warming tones with the title track, a beautifully constructed song with expertly captures that giddiness of love, and ‘Human Spirit’, an ode to the glimmers of hope that together brighten up the skies “No matter how many bombs we’ve dropped/No matter how many wars we’ve fought”. The very fact she chooses to identify with bombers and war-mongers using the collective “we” is a touching reminder that she bares no vengeance despite the wrongs that have been done. She even finds a way to brighten up the on-going conflict between Celtic and Rangers fans on ‘The Green and The Blue’, which takes a beautiful melody and teases out decades of local sectarian rivalry before climaxing in a chiming, anthemic finale to the resolving lyric “The green and the blue unite me and you on a Saturday afternoon”.

But let’s not forget to appreciate one of the things that made Amy Macdonald a household name back in 2007, because even at the tender age of 18 she was writing and singing all her own material, all of which displayed a maturity that far exceeded her years. And it’s on ‘The Days of Being Young and Free’ that this maturity and head for simply looking back and days long lived and smiling to oneself, and the belief that given the chance you’d changed absolutely none of it that Amy really hits the right notes. Served up as a delightfully breezy pop-rock anthem it swirls into a crescendoing vortex of rhythmic drums and triumphant guitar riffs.

Again, you may argue the merits of Amy’s new album; you may not like the often-blasé attitude that may formulate around her due to the uncannily astute ear and eye for balance, and one of the harshest and poorly justified criticisms of all is that ‘Life in a Beautiful Light’ is too happy. But the title and album cover alone should tell you this is hardly going to be pumped full of political undercurrents or teenaged angst, and it’s not like she’s shoving happiness down the listeners throat, Mika-style. What’s most pleasing about Amy and her music is that it’s simply there for listeners to take as much as they want from it. The themes are things everyone knows, and the instrumental sounds are something everyone can connect with. So you may not like it, but you may also choose to appreciate the album on the grounds for which it was made, in that in an industry of negativity and/or attempted positive songs that bleach themselves into generic tastelessness and banality by never realising that there’s positivity to be found outside getting pissed in a club, Amy Macdonald’s new album, ‘Life in a Beautiful Light’, is the perfect catalyst to appreciate once more the rustic traditions that we grew up with. It’s a wonderful mix of eclectic folk rock that captures Amy’s raw talent at its absolute finest.

Digital Release: June 11, 2012
Physical Release: June 11, 2012

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