Maybe it’s a generation thing, or maybe I live in a bubble, but I feel like a lot of people I talk to don’t really know who Kirsty MacColl is, despite knowing (and loving, usually) Fairytale of New York. Which is a shame.
To be honest – as seems to happen more than you’d expect with me in relation to artists I purport to love – I’ve never actually got past the one album. In this case, Kite. In fairness it’s a blinder so I never felt the need to move on. But I probably should, lest those “no true fan…” accusations come my way again. I’m kidding. I couldn’t care less what you think about how much a fan of something I am. But the more I think about this album, the more I realise I actually should make some time to listen to her other ones.
Kite is one of the albums I feel like I grew up with. Not sure how true that is or whether it’s just one of the albums my parents played occasionally that stuck out to me, but coming back to it throughout being a growed-up, I still love it. I’m not usually massively into country music, and this, to me, does have a definite country vibe, but it also has a big ol’ pop/rock edge and golden songwriting.
Compelling from the start, with the one-two punch of Innocence and Free World – I particularly love the driving lyrics in the chorus of the latter – this album has a great variety in the style of songs, but it hangs together well. MacColl’s attitude, biting wit and beautiful melodies and harmonies weave through each song and the instrumentation is gorgeous.
It’s actually tricky to pick favourites, which is surely a sign of a good record. I’ll mention a few for good form. I’ve already mentioned the opening two tracks, but to add to the upbeat pop/rock offering there’s also the delightful, cautionary Tread Lightly. On the more mellow side of the spectrum, we have the melancholy Mother’s Ruin and the most country sounding1 song on the album, Don’t come the cowboy with me sonny jim – more hopeful than you might initially think. Somewhere in between are the stately, swung No victims and the almost spiteful in spite of sugar-sweet delivery What do pretty girls do?
Also of note are the deliciously quirky Fifteen minutes and Dancing in Limbo, the former with its jazzy coda, and the latter putting me in mind of the bayou somehow? Not that I’ve ever been to the bayou of course. Throwing in a couple of songs in french also either shows quirkiness or sheer confidence, I’m not sure which.
I don’t think I could get away without mentioning the three covers (on the rerelease, at least). This seems on the high side to me, given MacColl’s very obvious talent, but they are collectively a masterclass in how to do a cover right. Pretty sure I’ve actually mentioned nearly every song now. Whoops.
(As an aside, I only just learned that MacColl collaborated with Johnny Marr of The Smiths on this album, and that You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby is in fact a Smiths song. This adds to my greater unified theory of “Toby realises how good Smiths songs actually are when he hears covers of them”.)
I think what strikes me most as I actually delve more into this record is what a superb lyricist Kirsty MacColl was. I get all warm inside when hearing a steady flow of syllables at a fair pace that still make coherent and at times acerbic points – as opposed to being a stream of consciousness that’s more abstract. But actually all of this album’s poetry, pacey or not so much, gives me that warm glow.
Given the pop/rock with a country twist, it might be possible to imagine – based on lazy stereotyping naturally – that it would be easy to fall in to cheesiness, but there’s none of that here, even with the aforementioned Don’t come the cowboy with me sonny jim (actually a contender for best song for me, make of that what you will). She doesn’t even get close. “The boots just go back on / The socks that had stayed on / The next time they see you / They treat you like dirt“. On point I’d say.
My arbitrary criterion of avoiding cheesiness on a pop record aside, she simply wrote great lyrics. And holy cow, you did not want to get on her bad side: “The supermarket checkout girl once smacked you in the eye / When you eat no one else does but you always wonder why“. Cold man, cold.
Crikey, this has turned into a right essay, hasn’t it? I’d better wrap it up. I clearly have other Kirsty MacColl albums to listen to. Bottom line, you should give this one a spin, and if you don’t get on with it musically, at least get involved with the lyrics.
1 At least as far as my limited understanding goes.