What does it sound like?:
Let me start by saying that I am Thea Gilmore’s biggest fan, and have followed her career for years, so this review may not be entirely objective. I have seen her play live 5 or 6 times. I was at one of her Christmas concerts after the release of the Strange Communion album some years ago, and had shivers up my spine and tears in my eyes when she played ‘Cold Coming’, it was that good. Fan that I am, I’ve not entirely lost my critical faculties. I thought The Counterweight was suffocated by over-production, and her last album, Small World Turning, was patchy to say the least.
A recent thread on here referred to the circumstances of Thea’s rebranding of herself under a new name, Afterlight. The outcome of the disintegration of her marriage to producer Nigel Stonier, 23 years her senior, it has clearly been an acrimonious break-up of a marriage tainted by years of coercive control that she has now revealed through a series of online statements and interviews, though Thea has been careful never to mention Nigel by name. The result is this, the mother of all break-up albums, as it has been described elsewhere. Break-up albums this raw and personal can be heavy going, and in both the spoken word pieces that top and tail it Thea does not pull any punches. There are no subtle metaphors here; this is brutal stuff, straight to the point and uncomfortable listening knowing that this is as real as life gets.
In between there are 10 songs with spare instrumentation, some angry, some desperately sad, but all of them beautifully written and sung with breathtaking and heart-wrenching vocals, wrapped in Thea’s customary poetic and incisive lyrics. ‘Parallax’ deals with two people’s irreconcilable points of view, and there is anger in ‘Stain’ – ‘If you think you’re rid of me / Well honey I stain’, which becomes a repeated ‘honey I stain’ as the song reaches its climax. Perhaps best of all are the two closing tracks, ‘Vespering’ – ‘There’s a heatwave in the street / And a nail in the grass / Picked it up / Carved your name on the underpass / Like I’m 17 and free / Like you’ll always walk with me’, and the desperately sad ‘Cut and Run’, for me the best song on the album – ‘Come on baby / Shall we cut and run / Cos the work is gone and nothing is the same / Come on darling / Let’s just cut and run / Cos a different set of kings have bought the game’.
It’s debatable whether rebranding herself as Afterlight will prove to be a good idea in the long run. Thea has recently released The Emancipation of Eva Gray under her own name, an album of jazz-tinged songs available only from her website. Its themes are similar, but its tone is very different. Thea sees it as the end of a chapter, but one which she hasn’t closed completely, describing it as the last album she is releasing as Thea Gilmore, ‘at least for now’. Where she goes next as Afterlight is anyone’s guess. For now, this is an album that Thea clearly needed to make. It is visceral and cathartic in its honesty, an uneasy listen at times, but a beautiful and cohesive piece of work. As a collection of songs it is the best piece of work that Thea has released in quite a while, and may well rank amongst the best things she has ever done.
What does it all *mean*?
Breaking up is very, very, very hard to do.
Goes well with…
A companion piece to The Emancipation of Eva Gray available from theagilmore.net.
15th October 2021
Might suit people who like…
Thea’s previous albums were all produced by Nigel Stonier, something which she perhaps wants to distance herself from for the time being. The creative control that she feels she lacked does not mean that the new album is out of step entirely with what went before. If you are a fan of Thea’s take on folk, rock, or folk/rock, all the strengths of her best songwriting is on display here.