It’s now almost 11 years since The Delgados called it a day, leaving behind as fine a collection of music – five LPs and sixteen singles – as any band from Scotland has ever achieved.
Of course, the four band members still have a huge influence on music in my home country thanks to the continued existence of Chemikal Underground Records whose releases from a wide array of artists across a range of genres always seems to impress, astound and amaze in equal quantities. Theirs is a label which constantly gets critical acclaim without ever achieving a huge breakthrough in commercial terms….but maybe the release this coming Friday of the third solo album from Emma Pollock, will at long last rectify that.
Such was the impact of The Delgados – who it must be remembered were huge favourites of John Peel, recording 13 separate sessions and being the house band at parties held at Peel Acres – that there was always going to be a huge amount of pressure put on the shoulders of the band members when it came to solo material. Emma tried to start completely afresh by issuing her debut, Watch The Fireworks on 4AD back in 2007 but was back on old stomping ground of Chem for The Law Of Large Numbers in 2010. Both of these LPs, although containing a number of individual highlights, never quite had enough to be thought of as anything but solid pieces of indie pop/rock that you could listen to intermittently.
It is wonderful to report that In Search Of Harperfield is in a different league altogether and is one which any discerning listener will return to time and time and time and time again. And I will make the bold prediction that it will top a number of end of year lists in eleven months time…
There is so much to enjoy, appreciate and admire – classy guitars, piano and string arrangements abound throughout but more than anything else, Emma’s voice has never sounded better. It’s as if, having hit her mid 40s (how did that happen without her looking any older than when she first burst onto the scene?) she has discovered the range and tempo that she is most comfortable with.
There are many moments within its 45 minute duration when you will find yourself comparing a particular moment or an entire song to something else you have heard and enjoyed before. There are moments on this record that are reminiscent of the best of Kate Bush, Kristin Hersh, Annie Clark or Jenny Lewis and that’s no bad thing in my book.
The LP enjoys a wonderful 1-2 punchy opening – each of Cannot Keep A Secret and Don’t Make Me Wait are tailor-made for coming out of your radio on gloriously warm and sunny days….
Up next are three consecutive tracks where Emma takes the tempo down just a shade and allows the quality of the songwriting and arrangements to grab hold of your senses. And as you listen to the cleverness and loveliness of Alabaster and think that it will be hard to top, along comes the bitter-sweet betrayal number that is Clemency to blow you away before, for this listener at any rate, you will get to hear the high point of the album; Intermission is just Emma and strings. No guitars, keys or drums. Absolutely stunning. Like a female fronted Tindersticks classic.
And then, in complete contrast, these are followed by probably the most catchy and upbeat track on the album – Parks and Recreation – and it has unsurprisingly been selected as the lead single from the album and I’m guessing will get the second side of the vinyl version of the album off to a great start. And as with side one, it is followed by another upbeat indie pop number in Vacant Stare.
In The Company Of The Damned (which will be tucked away in the middle of side two) is the sole song that initially I can’t get to grips with – probably only in as much that it isn’t as catchy as the great pop tunes that precede it nor does it match the majesty of the closing three songs.
Dark Skies is another string-laden number in which Emma demonstrates she is a very fine singer who, in a parallel universe, will be revered and adored and as rich as the likes of Adele……
The opening notes of Monster In The Pack are unmistakably the work of RM Hubbert as he returns the favour of Emma guesting on Half Light, which was one of the stand out tracks on Thirteen Lost and Found, his award-winning album from 2012. It is every bit as lovely and exquisite as you’d expect.
Emma closes out her album with Old Ghosts. This is another of the highlights being a song which changes tempo a couple of times, going from ballad to mid and even uptempo. Fans of Dusty Springfield will hear her influence on the vocal as indeed will fans and admirers of Karen Carpenter. It is also a song that harks back to some of the best material that her old band ever recorded.
This blog doesn’t do stars or marks out of ten ratings – hell, regular readers will know that it rarely does new album reviews. But if it did, the stars would look this – ***** – and the magic number would be 10/10.
Do yourself a big favour and get a hold of this record – and do Chemikal Underground an even bigger favour by getting hold of it direct from them! Click here