WMW/Cooking Vinyl [Release date 02.06.17]
So what’s a girl to do? She’s got bills to pay just like the rest of us, so is this the moment that Thea Gilmore drifts into the mainstream?
From the release of the bile-spitting ‘Burning Dorothy’ all those years ago, she has been fiercely independent and resolutely uncompromising – qualities her legion of fans have admired over fourteen albums and countless live performances.
But does it pay the bills? And is ‘The Counterweight’ Gilmore’s ‘Bob Dylan goes electric’ moment?
Well, not quite, although I would suggest that many of those aforementioned fans may be getting a little worried that their cherished icon is about to ‘sell out’. To them I would say “calm down and listen to it first”…
I must say a few alarm bells started ringing when I read that, when writing the album, Thea reached for the iPad rather than the acoustic – a worry compounded on reading the album credits that no fewer than three people are involved in “programming” and that Thea plays no instruments at all.
As a result, much of ‘The Counterweight’ utilises drones, clicks and beats as the backdrop to the songs which may well be a turn-off for many, added to which a number of tracks are either drenched in string arrangements or are led by the sort of double-finger piano motifs so beloved of real and earnest documentary makers. And where is the formerly ubiquitous acoustic guitar?
If all this sounds like a completely new direction, in many ways it is, but fans should be reassured that it is undeniably a classic Thea Gilmore album full of the usual belting songs, acerbic world view and incisive lyrics – just delivered in a different way.
Said double finger piano kicks off the lead track ‘Fall Together’ along with the programmed backdrop – but it soon ushers in that familiar, classically English voice wrapping itself around eloquent lyrics and you realise that, yes, it sounds different, but it has that cosy glow of familiarity about it that whispers “this is going to be OK”.
In fact it’s more than OK as the album unfolds its treasures; ‘Leatherette’ has a Beatles ‘She’s Leaving Home’ feel about it, the piano-led ‘Rise’ is a lovely song with heavenly background vocals, ‘Another Damn Love Song’ has no programming and sounds like it could have been lifted from ‘Rules For Jokers’ and the classic singalong of ‘Sounds Good To Me’ has radio-friendly written all over it.
But I would point you in the direction of two tracks in particular – ‘Slow Fade To Black’, a fabulous song which has every credential to be the standout track here but which is eclipsed by the simply wonderful album closer ‘The War’ which, despite being dressed up as a ballad and having a beautifully pastoral piano motif is, as the title suggests, a disparaging commentary on the hateful propaganda, spiteful social media and disruptive cyber wars so prevalent at the moment.
Talk about saving the best ’til last. I don’t think I’ve heard a better Thea Gilmore song (and, yes, that includes ‘December In New York’ and ‘Holding Your Hand’) – the killer lyric runs: “In the tide of hate, throw down the counterweight, tear up that flag and say you’re worthy of more”. Wow.
‘The Counterweight’ is certain to divide opinion – the programmed beats, the piano as lead instrument, the copious use of strings and the complete absence of acoustic guitars will shock many.
But know this – by anybody else this would be hailed as one of the finest albums of the new millennium, so why not because it’s by Thea Gilmore?
If there’s any justice she won’t have to worry about bills again.
Simply breathtaking. *****
Review by Alan Jones
Alan sequences “The Eclectic Mix” on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, second Sunday of the month at 18:00. Expect some Thea.
Gig review (Chester, December 2017)
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