Emmy the Great launched her second album Virtue with an album showcase at the Wheelbarrow in Camden tonight. Accompanied by a six-piece band she played the album in full and in order, before treating the audience to an encore of MIA and the title track from her debut album, First Love.
The discordant synth and noise of the intro of ‘Dinosaur Sex’ immediately signals that things have changed since the comparitively sweet-sounding First Love. Virtue is a darker album in both sound and theme. The opener is full of creepy imagery: “skin peeling off in sheets” and “babies born with teeth”.
Dealing with a break up caused by religion, the songs are full of stinging lines and perfectly-crafted insults. “You’re not unlucky, you’re just not very smart.” And the orchestration is menacing, with rumbling bass and alternately driving and sparse guitars.
Introducing ‘Paper Forest (In the Afterglow of Rapture)’, Emma-Lee Moss explains why we’ve all been summoned there. “The Rapture is supposed to be this Saturday. No-one’s going to get a chance to buy the album. So this is it. We’ve locked the doors”.
Virtue is a scornful question rather than the sweet description it may seem to be at first, and the final song ‘Trellick Tower’ lays it all out bare. Accompanied only by a piano, it showcases what an excellent vocalist Emma really is. Intoning the song’s plaintive lyrics with more feeling and vocal skill than any of today’s lauded pop singers.
It’s a brave move to answer nine loud, full-band songs with a piano ballad but it really, really works. In performance tonight, Virtue is cohesive, affecting and beautiful. In short: a triumph.