by Tim Birkbeck
When Imelda May broke onto the music scene with her first album back in 2003, there were instant comparisons to the throwback sounds of the rockabilly era of the 1950s. The image, the upbeat tunes, and even the tone of May’s voice all lent themselves to this rock and jive sound and it was what made the singer and her band stand out from the crowd.
So when news of her fifth studio album, Life. Love. Flesh. Blood was announced with an accompanying imagery that didn’t match the trademark bright colours and blond quiff it was a bit of a shock to the norm. Instead fans were presented with a black and white image of the Irish singer, who was now sporting a black fringe.
Just from the aesthetics it is clear this is a new Imelda May, and one who is wearing her heart on her sleeve.
The album opens with the very heartfelt, ‘Call Me’, which speaks volumes of what this album is about, with the lyrics acting as a real window into what Life. Love. Flesh. Blood is about. Lyrics like, “If our love means anything, then baby please call me” are a clear nod the recent breakdown in her marriage to guitarist Darrel Higham.
The sombre feel continues on into ‘Black Tears’, but despite this one of May’s trademarks remain and that is the power of her voice. Her smooth vocal tones still carry that throwback feel, which has made her so recognisable. It’s in the song ‘Human’ when May once again shows the power of her vocal range, so prominent on records like Tribal and Love Tattoo. She is a vocalist who knows how to perfectly control her voice, building it up to the crescendo of each chorus, but then bring it right back down when coming into the verses.
There is a glimpse of the Imelda May of old in the track, ‘Bad Habit’. The upbeat rhythm of the song accompanying May’s more carefree vocal delivery. She’s clearly having fun, rather than them just being reflective.
By having this little break from the otherwise, saddening theme of Life. Love. Flesh. Blood, it almost represents a turning point and could be seen as a moment of acceptance that she needs to move on a shake things up a bit.
For anyone who is expecting this album to be a continuation of 2014’s Tribal may be a little disappointed, but stick with it. With Life. Love. Flesh. Blood Imelda May takes you on a journey through heartbreak, acceptance and the rebuilding of oneself.
Yes, this is a new Imelda May which many fans may not have seen before, but this is May at her raw and emotional best.
Life. Love. Flesh. Blood is out on April 7th via DECCA.