Slow It Down
Three albums down and Amy Macdonald is acquiring an air of always-the-bridesmaid. The 24-year-old's previous long-players' combined sales total around four million, but it's a rare listener who'd name her alongside Adele or Amy Winehouse in terms of recognisably successful modern UK artists.
Listening to this third album, recorded after Macdonald took a year off to recharge batteries drained touring 2010's A Curious Thing, it's easy to hear why superstar status has eluded her. She's just too plain to stand out in the contemporary pop landscape, with nothing in her arsenal that other singers offering middle-of-the-road strum-alongs can't provide.
The most striking aspect of her voice is, simply, that there's an accent in there - she hails from East Dunbartonshire. Think what you like about Jessie J's histrionics, but at least hers is an instantly recognisable identity. The most Macdonald can hope for, vocally, is to step out from the shadows cast by Annie Lennox and KT Tunstall while said performers are on downtime.
If Macdonald's wordplay excited, her presence would benefit considerably; but uninspired couplets stick in the craw, if not the mind. While lyrical simplicity is welcomed when attached to music that dazzles, here it regularly sounds predictable. The Furthest Star's "I tried to wish upon that star / It didn't get me very far" is the sort of rhyme that a writer with Macdonald's experience might've outgrown by now.
Cliches abound, with talk of a house of cards, of giving up the ghost. Human Spirit's sentiments are in the right place - whatever the ills humanity subjects itself to, something deeper and meaningful prevails - but its articulation is awkward, the song cloying before its two minutes are up.
Highlights do present themselves. Slow It Down skips along at a merry pace, kicking up dust enough for it to suit a band like The Killers. It also finds Macdonald pushing herself vocally, stretching while elsewhere she remains within an unmoving comfort zone.
The Days of Being Young and Free will appeal to fans of The Band Perry and their pop-country cousins, and the title track gusts with no little power or poise. But these are small victories on a set that, mostly, leaves an objective listener puzzled as to Macdonald's commercial triumphs.
One wonders if Macdonald's songs wouldn't be better served by more charismatic vocalists, as while there's nothing wrong with this set's blueprints, the build quality sees it slip into indifference.