The commercial side of music has always been and will always be a dirty business, but great art will find an audience no matter what.
One has to assume that Mackenzie Scott is happy to get back to the business of making music at all. Her last album as TORRES, Three Futures, was a considerable leap forward for the songwriter that worked more often than it didn’t. Alas, the album itself was slightly overshadowed by Scott’s public grievances with her former label, who dropped her from a three-album deal when the record didn’t meet commercial expectations. Scott has publicly spoken about the hurt that that caused and how she almost quit making music as a result. Thankfully, she took a different path, which led her to create the swirling, dizzying Silver Tongue, her best album yet and a triumphant vindication of her talent.
If Three Futures had any faults, it was in how Scott often wrote from a very arch, distant perspective. Silver Tongue does the exact opposite; Scott lures the listener in from her first words on “Good Scare” and keeps them under her spell for the remainder of the album. Here, Scott grapples with sincere emotions of love, loss and frustration on songs that put her vocals and lyrics at the front of the mix; there’s no attempt on her part to conceal what she’s saying or feeling. The yearning “Dressing America” finds Scott at arguably her most obtuse, but even then her words make her longing clear to anyone willing to listen (“I tend to sleep with my boots on/ Should I need to gallop over dark waters/ To you on short notice”). Conversely, “Two of Everything” is filled with a palpable fear and jealousy, with Scott singing the entire song from the perspective of a spurned lover who might just be headed over the edge. These are relatable experiences for many of us, but Scott’s lyrical craft and enrapturing vocal timbre give Silver Tongue that much more of an emotional resonance.
The power these songs carry is only doubled by their composition and arrangement, which is leaps and bounds ahead of what one would have expected from a TORRES album a few years ago. In some respects, Silver Tongue is a continuation of the dabbling and experimenting we witnessed on Three Futures, but the results here are more fully realized and serve the songs better as a result. At times, the album sounds massive and full of bombast as on “Good Scare” and “Last Forest.” Elsewhere, Scott throws us for a loop, such as when “Records of Your Tenderness” opens as a spare, somber number only to come alive with glitchy electronics as the chorus hits. Overall, there’s a sheen of new wave gloss over everything with plenty of electronics and muted drums. Even so, Scott finds room for guitars on the wailing “Good Grief,” which conjures up memories of early St. Vincent without the meticulousness that held audiences at arm’s length. Overall, though, these songs are busy in the best sense; one gets a sense of all the ideas running through Scott’s head as the album came together in the studio.
It’s still a little disquieting that we almost didn’t get Silver Tongue, and that a talent like Mackenzie Scott should come so close to being discouraged into silence is a scathing condemnation on the state of the music industry today. Albums this infused with emotion that resonates so honestly are difficult to come by, and it’s also gratifying to see some of the ideas that Scott toyed with on previous albums come full circle here. The commercial side of music has always been and will always be a dirty business, but great art will find an audience no matter what, and if there is any justice in the world, Silver Tongue will find ears that appreciate it.