An album born of both the pandemic and her own mental health struggles, it acknowledges the darkness but it consistently seeks the light
Recorded in an improvised tightly sealed indoor space on her and husband/producer Christian Dunham’s goat farm in the Australian bush of Queensland, this varies from feelings of trepidation to one of joy, a reflection of her bipolar condition and her Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.
It opens with ‘She’s Gone’, a number which starting out with a gentle circling fingerpicked pattern transforms into swelling soaring choruses that capture the spirit of the woman in the song walking away from a neglectful relationship and Maguire admonishing him for ignoring her pleas and just carrying on. Given the songs were written during the country’s 2020 lockdown, it’s not surprising the find resilience informing some of the lyrics, a case in point being the pertinently titled and suitably upbeat sounding ‘Sunshine‘ that finds her wrestling with the demons in her head but declaring:
I don’t want to be torn again And no matter how high the tide I can weather the storm again
The sun is coming out There’s another day here now the night is over
There’s a similar sense to ‘About Everything‘ with its strings and heavenly backing chorus where there are things that need to be said:
But you’re feeling tired And the pain is bad in the evenings Nothing seems to take it away
And is essentially a let’s sleep on it lullaby:
And in the morning We’ll talk and laugh about everything
A reminder that a good night’s rest can prove one the best therapies and with the moon and the stars to calm, then:
Everything is nothing but beautiful.
That optimism that it will all work out anchors the piano-backed, softly sung moody SoCal blues of ‘Believe Me‘:
Give me black, give me white Give me hope and I’ll be alright now Give me day, give me night Break my heart but I’ll be alright now Make me laugh, make me cry Wake me up and I’ll be alright now Make me low, make me high Make me fall but I’ll be alright now
The song directly addresses her struggles with mental health
They never said it’d be easy Letting go of the demons in my mind…Make me strong, make me sane.
But as it swells, soars and then slowly ebbs away, she sings:
I’m starting to see there’s a better way to be
Even so, mirroring her bi-polar swings, on the yearningly sung, strings and piano arranged, ‘Let Me Be‘:
It’s coming round again Another wave to make me drown again
And while she knows she must be strong to overcome the intangible darkness:
It just won’t let me be.
The theme of sanity resurfaces on the fingerpicked circling and cascading, strings-soaked love song ‘Stay‘ (a track musically reminiscent of Don McLean’s ‘And I Love You So‘) as she admits life’s never easy and:
I was never good at playing At staying sane
But while the demons still come calling, having known what it’s like to have been pinned to the wall but survived, she’s no longer scared, injecting celebratory notes as she sings:
There’s nothing like the feeling Of being sane.
Whisperingly sung to a ruminative piano before the melody surges in anthemic manner, ‘How To Conquer‘ (and here I’m put in mind of ‘Amoreuse‘) expands the perspective in a song calling for resistance and change again those who would hold us back and down:
They’ve got our minds They’ve got our hearts They turn day into the dark Cos they want us scared They want us meek So they do anything they please
Pointing the finger at corporate greed:
They sell our parks They sell our streets Every forest, every sea
But calling on the oppressed to take a stand:
How to conquer, how to blight It takes one man to start a fight We could end it and change the world.
Likewise, environmentalist concerns underpin ‘Another Wild World‘:
It’s on the news, they say we’re out of time We’re losing everything and it’s our design And you won’t find another wild world This ain’t a case where you can walk on by Cos no-one’s safe when there is nowhere to hide And you can’t buy another wild world
Returning to personal struggles, things take a smoother course, the fingerpicked guitar and folksy melody evocative of Townes Van Zandt, on ‘Dreaming‘ where she’s again facing down the demons with a Nietzschean attitude:
They kill but they won’t kill me When life breaks my heart, it’ll make me wise.
As I’ve said, resilience in the face of adversity, whether from within or without, is theme that runs throughout the album, surfacing again in ‘Northern Star‘:
I may be broken and blind But I know I’m gonna find my way And it’s not easy to be strong But I know I’ll carry on, I’ll stay.
And in ‘The Only Thing‘:
I’ve been blind But now I can see this time The only thing we’ve got Is the love we gave And the hope we’ll be free someday
The album comes to close with contrasting notes of despair and hope, first in the intimately sung, circling guitar pattern and dappled drums of ‘My Way Home’ where, taking influences perhaps from Janis Ian, she sings:
I’m lost again, I thought I’d been so close to home But now I’m far away from everything My eyes are tired, my hands are holding emptiness And hope has left me for the coast She won’t be there when I need her most to stay.
All the voices in my head Shouting that I should be dead
And as she pleads:
Leave a light on for me So in the night I can see my way home
It follows the light into the title track to end the album with a mix of nervy and confident piano notes and echoed drums and the assurance that after the storm there is the calm, after the night there is dawn, and while life may cut you to the bone:
You are beautiful and brave facing all that sorrow
You will fly away When you get your wings You’ll see that silence Is in everything And you will find some peace someday And a light to follow.
A grace note born of struggle and determination, like the light of which she sings, this is luminous.