I almost feel it would be easier/better if the latest Joan Armatrading album was downright awful. Easier to dismiss anyway. But instead it is frustrating in showing glimpses of the old jazzy voicings that made that handful of great albums across the 1970s/early 1980s so exciting, intense and interesting.
But Joan takes it easier on herself these days – and that’s a great shame. She’s in good voice, but she has so little to say. Stories of domestic bliss don’t match up to her stories of domestic violence from the past; that keen observational eye is missing now. There’s no tension. She’s just writing happiness. And writing it to sound so boring. Her greatest skill was in her guitar playing and that’s – mostly – been shelved. As her recent tour showed she can still do it but the new songs are too comfortable, almost lazy.
And Close To Me has a Karaoke cosiness to it (just so we’re clear – that is never a good thing) that almost marks it out for self-parody. In other news its repetitive chorus – a long-winded chore to sit through – has Bruce Springsteen considering a redux of The Rising just so he can add a cover of Close To Me to the album(*).
I want to like this but it already sounds more dated than Armatrading’s good stuff. (And some of that hasn’t – really – aged all that well). So I’ll stick with her best material. And leave this to swept under the rug.
(*) Not remotely true.