16 November, 2013 in Music Reviews
Dublin songwriter Lisa Cuthbert’s second full length album ‘Paramour’ is a true victory of both songwriting courage and compositional excellence
ongwriting is about a certain few qualities: the ability to write a finely melody, an indelible hook, and an appreciation for drawing disparate influences into a unique whole and heart. This last trait, the courage to tackle difficult topics and write with sincerity, is often lost among the desire to make sure every note rings to its optimum potential, but it’s the most noble of the lot.
When Bob Dylan saw Nirvana perform, at a time when Kurt Cobain’s songwriting star was at its most effervescent, it wasn’t the rasping hook of Smells Like Teen Spirit or addictively simple chorus of Lithium that drew his praise. Upon hearing Polly, Dylan remarked, “The kid has heart”. It’s a quality that’s imprinted all over the second full-length album from Dublin songwriter Lisa Cuthbert. Taking the topic of Dublin’s Magdalene asylums – a prison for ‘fallen’ women’ – as its theme, Paramour is an exercise in songwriting bravery.
Magdalene asylums housed women born out of wedlock, orphaned, mentally handicapped and, like the subject of Polly, those who had been raped. Lyrically these women, prisoners of Catholic opposition to their ill-fitting placement within its doctrine, are the characters throughout Paramour. It’s a harrowing journey, as Cuthbert tackles her daunting topic effectively, giving humanity to the victims of inhumanity. Taking such a provocative subject as its theme runs the risk of detracting from the music. So skilled a songwriter is Cuthbert, though, that her music creates the perfect backdrop, with her haunting piano and crunching guitar riffs evoking both rage and despair.
But her most evocative instrument though is her voice: full of the anguish and terror of those housed in the Magdalene asylums, it brings the ‘fallen’ women to life. Musically Cuthbert has been described as a ‘darker Tori Amos’; this comparison is apt but there are other influences at play on Paramour, too, such as the James Blake take on dubstep that underpins closer Party’s Over, the Evanescence-with-credibility of Run And Jump, or the Agnes Obel-esque Gartan Mothers Lullaby.
Coming back to Dylan again, ol’ Bob knows a thing or two about giving voice to the characters within your songwriting and letting them speak as they would have articulated. Were he to hear Paramour, he might well remark “The kid has heart” once more.
Verdict: Piano balladry augmented by crunching guitars