Imelda May - Mayhem
For anyone who’s listened to Love Tattoo, or even for people who just caught tasters of it, it should have been clear that Imelda May revelled in the retro and her follow up album sees her expand on that. Mayhem couldn’t be more grounded in the past if it tried, to the extent that it probably should be played on vinyl for a more authentic experience. How that will play in a market dominated by synths and not saxes is anyone’s guess – especially in a world where Phil Collins manages to beat the Manics to number one – but you’ll definitely have a rollicking good time figuring it out.
Mayhem is at its best when it finds May in a playful mood: ‘Psycho’ mixes in some fuzzy guitars and vocal howls to result in a delightfully bonkers track; while ‘All For You’ sees her in all-out vixen mode, complete with sultry vocals – “I’m spellin’ it out, it’s not written in code / I want you so much, I think I’m gonna explode” – and moody trumpets. It all culminates in an inspired cover of ‘Tainted Love’ that somehow manages to put a fresh spin on a track that has been endlessly covered thanks to its rockabilly edge.
The success of the high tempo efforts is due in no small part to May’s excellent use of rhythm to ensure tracks are never bland, even in the absence of a big riff or hook. Lead single ‘Mayhem’ is a perfect example of this as is album opener ‘Pulling The Rug’ as both tracks manage to get the feet tapping through the well-timed changes in rhythm and tempo without the need for a “this is the chorus” signpost. Obviously it helps that the vocals are so strong with May equally adept at dealing with the doo-wop stylings of ‘Mayhem’ as she is with the subtle emotions of ‘Kentish Town Waltz’.
Thankfully the variation in her rhythm and vocals extends to the track choice otherwise Mayhem could have been left as an enjoyable, but ultimately samey, experience. ‘Kentish Town Waltz’ is the first out of the blocks and is sweet enough – “But it’s when I see you’re not perfect for me / It’s then I love you more and more” – but it’s upstaged by the barnstorming ‘Too Sad To Cry’ where May’s impassioned yet gutsy vocal just takes your breath away.
However, the odd error creeps in: ‘Proud And Humble’ in particular stands out as it becomes repetitive around the two-minute mark and, in contrast to the rest of the album, is rather dull. It’s arguably the only clunker in among the 14 tracks but there are also some tracks that work as a collective whole but may not fare so well on their own, such as laidback vibes of ‘I’m Alive’.
Much like with Love Tattoo, some listeners might feel that, for all her rockabilly claims, everything on the album is a little too polished and slick, resulting in the album being robbed of the raw edge that the genre should have. However, when everything is as ridiculously accomplished and enjoyable as this, it would be almost churlish to resist. Rockabilly or just retro pop, call it what you like, Mayhem is a cracking album that should hopefully gain Imelda May the same kind of recognition she has already received back in her home country of Ireland.