Jo Hamilton - Gown
The first minute or so masks the impending horror. So far so good, you think; all semi-tribal beats and a nod, if you will, to Nerina Pallot’s ‘If I Know’, the statement of intent that led you into her debut album. It doesn't last long. All of sixty seconds in, the backing fills in with such a juddering blast of trumpet, saxophone, it’s all I can do to resist pulling a cheroot from behind my ear and purring “Nice.”
Jo Hamilton’s debut is awash with warning signs. I’m sure its title has deeper meaning for those involved but it’s lost on me and so I’ll go with my instinct – it’s weak-kneed to Walter the Softie levels. There’s the cover artwork, an unholy hotch-potch of new age mysticism and sci-fi new world imaginings. It brings to mind those dreadful carved statuettes of simplified human forms, all detail removed and typically consisting of a tall slim female cradling a baby. You know, the kind that tossers have on their shelves. And then there’s the song titles and their accompanying ‘explanations'. 'Lily-livered' doesn’t get near. As well as the opening ‘Exist (Beyond my wildest dreams)’, there’s ‘How Beautiful’, ‘All in Adoration’, ‘Think of Me’ and ‘Deeper (Glorious)’. Just imagine. “Alright Hammermith ? This is Deeper brackets Glorious for ya !”
Back to the music. Picture a stoned Sarah McLachlan deciding that that whole vocal and piano thing is really far too tried and true, and getting Enya in to "rough it up a bit." Then the pair of them grabbing a stoned Mike Oldfield as he passes the studio door and pressing him to “Get all ‘Ommadawn’ on us, Mike ! But more !” Over the top ? Yeah, and into no-man’s land without your rifle. The production, as busy as Simon Cowell and twice as misguided, is so overloaded, so weezy under its own weight, you can imagine how Hamilton’s cohorts have fed her vanity. They must think that ‘Gown’ is some noughties remodelling of the kind of studio-designed singer-songwriting pulled off with such ingenuity by the likes of Kate Bush and Jane Siberry. Which, frankly, is ridiculous. ‘Gown’’s template – atmospheric intro, dash of piano, washes of strings, percussion – is fine on paper, but in actuality it’s an unlistenable confection. Every time you think it’s grounded itself and decided to pay the listener some heed – the promising piano intro to (here we go again) ‘Paradise’ – it’s only a matter of minutes before the kitchen sink arrives. And I offer this option in all seriousness : at times I genuinely think I must have received some hideously mis-mastered copy of the album and before too long the record company will recall it. Maybe they could just recall it anyway on grounds of taste and good sense.
And if all this sounds just too cruel and the likes of Mojo, The Independent, Damien Rice and Dave Boulden (Amazon reviewer – look it up if you want a laugh) are right and I’m way off, I point you towards, despite an undoubted vocal capability, some absolutely dreadful performance, largely due to diction that would make a sulky teenager start. Jo, you can sing. Open your mouth, enunciate, sing the words and lose this foolish misconception that mumbling like f*** is vaguely artful and adds a level of mystery. You’re not Michael Stipe.
What else ? There’s no lyric sheet, so I can only guess as to why not. Mmm. If ‘Liathach’ is anything to go by (“You’re my Liathach !” she caterwauls), I can only guess that she’s clumsy with her metaphors and if ‘All in Adoration’ is typical (“He’s the jewel in my crown …”), soppiness runs riot. All the greats come to mind – Beverley Craven, Judie Tzuke. I mean, is it just me, or are all right-thinking people turned off by songwriters who dribble on about how their songs were inspired by f***ing travelling ? ‘Exist (Beyond my wildest dreams)’ features a “guitar collage … made from Andy’s recording at the house he built looking over Little Loch Brom.” (‘Gown’ – a ‘Straight Outta Compton’ for new age tossports ! They can use that.) And ‘Mekong Song’ was recorded “next to a water-filled crater in the hills of Ratanakiri, Cambodia, just before the rain fell again.” The irony of which, I have to say, is not lost on me.