Well, I just read all the way through my review of the new Mandy Moore album at Madeloud and discovered that the editors have more or less randomly butchered it…for length, I presume. Anyway, I thought I’d reprint it here to try to restore the corpse some semblance of dignity.
I was swept away by the first rapturous chords of Mandy Moore’s last album Wild Hope — and I’ve been more or less bitterly falling out of love with it ever since. I can’t resist those folk-pop tunes under the layers and layers of pristine production and the slightly hoarse vocals — but, gah, the remorselessly earnest phrasing…the self-help lyrics…and, for that matter, the saccharine folk-pop tunes under the layers and layers of pristine production. It’s like drifting off to sea in a romantic coracle with your one true love and then becoming desperately seasick and barfing over the side. And then you realize your true love is actually a rotting zombie mannequin — but jeez, she doesn’t look so bad, does she? And then, hey, it’s time to vomit over the side again. And then back to the not unpleasing zombie mannequin. And so on and on, over and over again. Oh god, make it stop.
Moore’s latest, Amanda Leigh, does nothing to free me from my painful and embarrassing dilemma. The album does head for a slightly different neck of the pop sugarscape : Moore has said she was inspired in part by Paul McCartney’s Ram, and as that would indicate, the languorous washes are leavened with a good bit more pep and fuss. But the basic algorithm remains the same: seduce, sucker punch, repeat — and not in a good way. “Song About Home” is a fine, jazzy Joni Mitchell impersonation; “Love to Love Me Back” on the other hand, demonstrates with a numbing finality that even mixing in Joni Mitchell can’t redeem crappy country radio tropes. “Merrimack River” is a pretty enough melody with an importunate and irritating waltz tempo; “Merrimack River (Reprise)”, though, resets the tune from guitar to piano and strings, adds some minor tunings and for a minute or so you’ve got a nice collision between Debussy and a carnival. “I Could Break Your Heart Any Day of the Week” is another absolutely egregious country radio clunker. “Those calendar girls, they got nothing on me!” Moore throbs, with a calculated spunk that she really seems to be clueless enough to have mistaken for sexy. The song is complete and utter crap…except for an odd dissonant bridge about 1:40 in, where the anthemic cheer shakes, stutters, and almost dissolves into something Syd Barrett could recognize. If only it would last…but no, our five seconds are up and we’re back to the shiny, happy people shit.
Amanda Leigh, in other words, is a fickle flirt. Avoid her siren song altogether and listen to something you can trust, like Linda Perhacs or, hell, Pat Benatar. But…if I have to pledge my troth to one track on this album, I guess it would be “Everblue,” an aching dirge soaked in amorphous longing and regret. Moore’s singing is her finest on the album. From the moment she comes in a perfect half-beat early, she emphasizes her breathing, and the heavy in-out seems to slow the pace even more, until even nonsense doggerel like “I have felt the ground, I’ve seen the seeds /Out of which grew golden wings” seems weighted down with meaningful melancholy.
Of course, some genius sprinkled in additional sighing wind effects, which are both dumb in their own right and tread dangerously close to self-parody. It’s probably just as well, though. If too much of my faith were restored, I might be tempted to buy her next album. No good could come of that.