Features May doing what she does best with that inimitable voice.
Over the course of four previous studio albums, Imelda May has proven to be a true powerhouse vocalist. During her career, she’s effortlessly blended rockabilly, blues, pop, soul and jazz, with the unifying factor always being that indelible voice. It’s a voice that is at once instantly recognizable, steeped in the sounds and styles of greats like Billie Holiday, but it also remains uniquely her own. May’s latest, Life Love Flesh Blood, is a slight departure from the Irish rockabilly queen’s past work, but just barely. Produced by T Bone Burnett, featuring veterans like Jeff Beck and Jools Holland and with Bono serving as a mentor throughout, May has crafted an introspective and honest breakup record. Yet while shifting effortlessly between slow-burners and fiery rockers, she still hits the retro-cool heights we’ve grown accustomed to from her.
The album cover signals May’s new direction. Gone are her signature rockabilly hair rolls in favor of a more natural cut that reflects the new album’s earthier sound. A somber black & white photo evokes the reflective nature of the album itself. Together, it all spells “serious artistic statement,” but don’t let that turn you off. It is most definitely an artistic statement, with May laying bare her emotions with full transparency. Yet it still features May doing what she does best with that inimitable voice.
The beautiful and heartbreaking opener “Call Me” lays out some of the album’s recurring themes. Delicately, May pleads with a former love, “If our love means anything/ Baby please, call, call, call, call me.” She sits by the phone, praying for it to ring. It’s standard relationship song territory, but her soulful performance makes it seem fresh.
“Should’ve Been You,” with its ’60s-inspired girl-group wall-of-sound, might be the album’s standout track. Running the emotional gamut, May moves from resigned and disappointed to fierce and defiant as she sings of a relationship gone sour. She’s left confused and angry yet still confident and resilient after it’s all fallen apart. Asking half-sarcastically and half-seriously, “Who takes care of me?” Her answer, “It should’ve been you,” will leave you fighting back tears.
“Bad Habit” allows May to really cut loose with the kind of thrilling vocal dexterity she’s known for. The most lighthearted and playful track on the record, it’s a celebratory—and relatable—ode to retail therapy. She sings of being tempted by Louboutins when she should be spending the cash on her daughter. But as she notes enthusiastically, “nothing beats a 55% discount.”
In “Human” she sings about falling off the pedestal she helped you place her on. She invites you to come adore her, but to realize that at some point she’ll likely let you down again. She’s only human, after all. In the beautiful bridge she inserts lyrical call-outs to Lou Reed and David Bowie, singing about satellites of love, Major Tom, and planets aligning as metaphors for two lovers being drawn back to one another.
After a couple of solid but less memorable tracks, May closes strong with the wistful, acoustic ballad “The Girl I Used to Be.” Full of nostalgic remembrances, it’s about the young Dublin girl she used to be from the perspective of the woman she is now. Again, this territory has been mined often in popular music, but she sings it all with such honesty and heart that you won’t mind. It’s a reflective, hopeful, and fitting conclusion to May’s deeply personal album.