Nothing is new under the sun, as Ecclesiastes adroitly points out, but since when did startling originality need to be the watchword for a third album? Lots of bands used to churn out loads of albums based around the big single, and thus filler was born – I blame Dylan for making the Beatles think, and thus making British pop take itself seriously. In Kate Walsh, we have an artist not afraid to mine the same lyrical and sonic ideas, but yet still produce an album with enough style, wit, emotion and sheer loveliness to carry on nicely from where Tim’s House left off.
Light & Dark is a less Joni Mitchell-esque solo effort, with a strong and fairly consistent group of musicians augmenting Tim Bidwell’s arrangements and instruments, with strings, drums and guitars helping to give a slightly thicker, denser, more interesting sound to fill the gaps around Walsh’s words. There are a lot fewer one-woman-one-guitar pieces here, perhaps because there’s a bigger recording budget, perhaps because simply the songs needed them, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
“Greatest Love” and “On The Stage” are the only songs on here that stand out as truly original, in a lyrical sense – not that the others are derivative, but these two address the conceit of the artist nicely: they sing about writing songs, and about performing on stage, something which pop music seems to avoid. Self-reference is a much more hip-hop thing, interestingly (see Roxxxane Shante’s “Live On Stage”, for instance), and although Walsh has a more personal, reflective view, it’s refreshing to not always hear the typical singer-songwriter themes (love is a) wonderful b) rubbish c) wonderfully rubbish d) rubbishly wonderful)
Opener “As He Pleases” toys with the listener, stressing the confusion of a relationship, and muddying the clear-cut lines that more obvious pop music takes – the chorus lines “it’s better not to know, then he can come and go as he pleases” are just as confused as the protagonist, and with a deceptively sweet melody, this sets the tone for the album – light with dark, an intriguing mixture of tones and moods. “Trying” unfortunately labours the rhymes of its chorus with too many ‘loves’, but “June Last Year” is a cracker: country and western guitars, drums that almost seem to stroll and there’s more self-referential artistic musing, along with the nicely put, if typical, romantic dilemma (he’s not great, but I love him, and I’m going to fight for him).
The title track and “Greatest Love” help draw the first side to a close, along with “Seafarer”, and encapsulate the album – “Greatest Love” is torn between her workaholic lover, her sanity and her songwriting, “Light & Dark” left her man, is with another and details beautifully how different kinds of love can co-exist in someone’s heart. “Seafarer”, on the other hand, is another charming full instrumental, and like “Talk of the Town” from the previous disc, is one of my favourites. It’s got a lovely melody, and feels almost indecently intimate. Based in Brighton, it’s unsurprising that sailors and the sea feature heavily, as the album opens with sea sounds, and the liner notes have a lot of seaside snaps (to downplay Martin Dam Kristensen’s photography).
June features again in “Be Mine”, which flies past – “1000 Bees”, on the other hand, stops you in your tracks. Sounding at the start like the Small Faces “Itchycoo Park”, and the bee based simile being strikingly vicious for such a genre, it’s not exactly business as usual. “On The Stage” asks the audience whether they’d really like to be where Walsh is, and strays into emo territory much more successfully than most emo bands – “Imagine what it’s like to have to pour out your bleeding heart into a song for all to hear”.
“I Cling On For Dear Life” is most definitely the darkest song here, with some remarkable images and a stark, downbeat sound, it really does sound like Walsh has poured out her bleeding heart. I do wonder how crowds would react to hearing this on stage, as the arrows, swords and “quick shards of light” left behind show us a broken woman hanging on to a love that’s destroyed her. “Old Man”, on the other hand, is the flipside, a warmer, happier sound, even if the lyrics sing of total emotional submission to an older man “just looking to score”. It’s bitter, but doesn’t sound it – that disguised anger is something most definitely new, and shows that difference doesn’t need to involve radical re-invention.
Closing with “Gather My Strength”, a beautiful song of devotion with a charming, evocative string arrangement, this album shows what a talent Britain has in Walsh – subtle, dark and interesting, as well as easy enough on the ears to avoid the “difficult” tag. Utterly lovely, highly recommended.
Key Tracks: As he Pleases/Light and Dark/On The Stage/Old Man