The Scottish siren’s fifth LP, The Human Demands finds her confronting the everyday challenges of love, longing, nostalgia, anger, loneliness and self-discovery. Macdonald tells a deeply personal story of relational experiences which has a distinctly autumnal feel to it.
Amy Macdonald burst onto the scene in 2007 at the age of 20 with her debut smash, ‘This Is the Life’. In her three subsequent releases, although there has been a consistent level of success in the likes of Germany and Switzerland, she has found it more ‘demanding’ (so to speak), to sustain the widespread acclaim that she received earlier in her career, especially in the UK.
The steely Glaswegian has returned with more of an edge to her music this time around, however, she continues to stick to what she knows best; straightforward, honest lyrics, full of tales & adventures – yet, the kind that we can all relate to. On one level, this collection of songs is an ode to the ups & downs of intimate, emotional interaction; on another level, it could also be the pressures that the music industry places on artists to repeat that winning formula.
The opener, ‘Fire’, is one of the more lively tracks; the intro is reminiscent of the Doves classic ‘There Goes The Fear’. Despite the upbeat nature of this track, Macdonald’s undercurrent of vulnerability is immediately evident.
Even with the backing of a tight production by Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian, Tom Odell), there are times when Macdonald’s lyrics don’t always do justice to the music. ‘Statue’ is a case in point. It is a very listenable and relatable song, yet the sheer heaviness of its nostalgic clichés just weigh it down – “It’s the street where nothing changes, but the road where I come from / Now the cherry blossom’s fallin’ and the nights are drawing in”. Similarly, ‘Young Fire Old Flame’ is the most stripped back track on the release, albeit with some well-worn lines – “As I button up my winter coat, there is a chill in the air”.
‘Crazy Shade of Blue’, a reference to the experience of new love, is slightly tormented, bringing down the pace a little. Inspired by memories of Amy’s parents visiting NYC during the 1970s, ‘The Hudson’ recalls the carefree, free-flowing times before relationships can often disintegrate – “See your face under disco light, the room is spinning, but I feel alright”.
The title track is strong, blending the heavy feelings of isolation and confusion with a sense of eventual solace – “I’m always looking for an answer / Your heart stops beating when you hear that song, and you finally feel you’re not alone”. The rockier ‘We Could Be So Much More’ only mildly veils Macdonald’s fragility – “Treading water since the day I was born / Hope is always a mountain I have to climb”. ‘Bridges’ is full of brutal bitterness and regret – “Just kick me when I’m down, ’cause that’s the man you are”.
The closing track, ‘Something in Nothing’, is mysterious and searching; perhaps the best song on the album and a reminder of Macdonald’s true quality as a singer-songwriter. There is a refreshing simplicity and earthy feel to Macdonald’s music, however, you can’t help hearing a sense of unfinished business in where she is right now. There is a common thread here running through a number of her songs – claims of not being fully embraced or understood, especially by those closest to her.
In one respect, the album is polished and a good tonic for the autumn & winter nights ahead, but just too mild to make a really vivid impression. On the flip-side, there is some excellent music on show here and Macdonald does have the courage and conviction to lift the lid on some very heartfelt & deep-rooted issues through her songs. In essence, The Human Demands is a timely tribute to the trials & tribulations that we experience on a daily basis, collectively.