On Please Daddy, Chadwick turns it all into art that’s as truthful as it is smart.
Sarah Mary Chadwick will make a happy record one day. No, change that. The Australian songwriter won’t. She befriends hurt, or at least welcomes it in and meditates on it until it becomes art. On her previous album The Queen Who Stole the Sky, she melded those emotional depths with an old, sympathetic organ for a unique look into the void. For Please Daddy she returns with a band, but still without flinching. She looks at loss and death and deteriorating mental health and somehow manages to come out through it. With a little wryness to her lyrics, Chadwick might just drag her listeners through the worst of it, too.
The album opens with the ’50s style “When Will Death Come.” The lyrics are every bit as cheery as you’d expect, but the lounge feel gives the song a self-aware edge that keeps it from folding in on itself. Chadwick has enough skill to go this dark – the song walks right to the precipice of suicide – and still have a detached sort of light to offer: “I guess we’re in this together.” That final phrase continues the song’s despair, but makes an odd twist that cracks the doom just enough.
The title track partly addresses her deceased father (to whom she dedicates the album) while struggling to embrace. Chadwick sings, “All the ones who died while trying/ Should I follow their lead and be done, Daddy?/ Anne and Elliott and Sylvia/ Do the work and then it kills you, right Mama?” Across the album, her temptation to follow Sexton, Smith and Plath remains strong, but she never quite goes there. She’s willing to try to find help and a way through.
“Let’s Fight” turns that battle against a partner. Chadwick’s genuinely funny here (one of the moments that prompts a re-listen to search out her subtle wit). “”At 15 couldn’t shake the feeling/ Life would never let my tears dry/ And it’s never let my tears dry/ The only time that I was right,” she sings. The song has an unusually energetic bounce to it. For another lyricist, this music could almost be part of a joyful road trip. For Chadwick, it’s the buoyancy necessary to have a fight with someone until she feels okay. No one ever said things would be easy in Chadwick’s world, which means you can find pleasure even in winning the struggle to be able to struggle.
The album can grind under its own weight. Chadwick isn’t willing to relent often, but she does throw us small moments: smart little lines, brief moments of light, increased tempo. Even so, the record maintains a persistent mood. If it matches where you are, it’s hard to imagine a record more empathetic and cathartic. If it’s not, it’s a tough place to stay. On “All Lies,” Chadwick discusses the artifice she needs to use on herself to get through life. On Please Daddy she turns it all into art that’s as truthful as it is smart. She might never make a happy record, but hopefully she takes some joy in making music that so successfully engages the other side of life.