From the moment she stepped into the music industry, Thea Gilmore has been fighting it. While the likes of Lily Allen display superficial bolshiness, Gilmore is too genuinely raw to digest. She is also one of the most naturally gifted lyricists in Britain, who was ably aping giant role models such as Dylan and Costello when still in her teens.
Only 26 now, her new album Harpo's Ghost, her seventh, took two-and-a-half years to complete, her previously relentless release schedule disrupted by depression. It shares the fault of earlier records, a guitar-rock conservatism which may be holding her back as much as music biz fears. But its songs also reveal an admirable character, only able to go against the grain: politically and personally radical, and worthy of support.
Visibly pregnant (by her guitarist and musical collaborator Nigel Stonier), Gilmore is soon rehearsing her recent traumas in "Contessa", which characterises her private flaws as a devil on her shoulder, quietened by "pills". "Cheap Tricks" shakes off analysis for a tribute to wild women who take what they want, played with the New Wave snap which sees her at her most musically attractive. "Everybody's Numb", among the best of her many assaults on the music industry, describes the emotional vacancy it favours, and anticipates its fall.
A pregnancy-induced "piss-break", in Gilmore's words, forms a natural pause. Then her band are dismissed, and her best strengths revealed. With just her acoustic guitar, she gives Van Morrison's "Crazy Love" a soft, speculative reading. "Slow Journey" seems to imagine contemplating suicide, before her voice attains a meditative peace, a musical high point describing her climb back to health. "Red, White and Black", investigating American patriotism, is preceded by a moving definition of her own, troubled national pride. Then the band return.
The range, reach and impact of those songs show why many of us will always hold a torch for Gilmore. But there's a musical lid on her rock work right now, a ceiling you feel her talent should break. A glance at the careers of Dylan and Costello should show Gilmore what else is needed. The angst-faking divas she's already left in the dust, by always being herself, proves she's on the right path.
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