Album: Kite – Kirsty MacColl
Review: Rolling Stone, 31 May 1990
Author: Steve Mochman
Kirsty MacColl does not suffer fools gladly: “It’s a bozo’s world and you’re a bozo’s child” is just one of a quiverful of arrows she slings at both men who are self-centered manipulators and women who put up with them. “I’m no victim to pity and cry for/And you’re not someone I’d lay down and die for” is another. The effect, at least lyrically, is a sort of distaff Elvis Costello: sharp-tongued, literate and – in its own distinctive way – charming.
The charm is derived in no small part from MacColl’s songwriting skill. (Remember Tracey Ullman‘s 1984 hit “They Don’t Know”? MacColl wrote it.) She is, after all, the daughter of the late Scottish folk singer Ewan MacColl, whose “Dirty Old Town” was recorded by the Pogues and many other artists. She’s also the wife of producer Steve Lillywhite, and with help from him and the likes of guitarist Johnny Marr, MacColl has created a sparkling, modern folk-rock sound that at turns bounces, forces and eases her scoldings on, with her plain but attractive voice layered throughout.
“Free World” slams home a warning of women’s frustration in the world with U2-like frenzy; “Fifteen Minutes” is a tart kiss-off to a fair-weather lover; “What Do Pretty Girls Do?” makes a case that it’s the plain Janes that learn the best lessons from life; and rounding out the package are two lovely, bittersweet tracks: an eye-watering version of the Kinks‘ “Days” and the closer, “You and Me Baby.” The real bittersweet fact about Kite, though, is that it’s only MacColl’s second recording and her first in almost ten years. It’s unfair for someone with this much to say and this much skill at saying it to be so stingy.
A couple of things to mention.
By the time this review was published, Kite had been out for more than a year in the UK, where it had sold enough copies to qualify for a silver disc from the British Phonographic Industry. Four singles had been taken from it, but only Days had been a hit. I’ve had a look on-line, but as far as I can make out, Kite was released in the USA at the same time as elsewhere in the UK and Europe. It may well just have been the case that the journalist, who was clearly a fan of the album, took a punt by submitting a speculative review which was picked up by the editorial team – it was probably the reference to U2 that clinched it ….
The good thing for Steve Mochman, and indeed all of us who were fans of Kirsty back in the later 80s/early 90s was that she was already hard at work on her third album, and Electric Landlady would be released in June 1991. I’m sorry to say that I haven’t been able to track down a Rolling Story review of that particular LP.