The strange days are over. Thea Gilmore survived a rancorous divorce with an album documenting that toxic relationship, Afterlife released under the name Afterlight. But now she returns with an album 25 years in the making, and one markedly self-titled, Thea Gilmore. While it is not a work designed to divide her audience, it will in the same way that Dylan’s “Royal Albert Hall” concert divided that Manchester audience 57 years ago. Which is a shame, because it is a record that is raw, refined and all Gilmore. There are no outside producers or musicians with their own agendas. “It’s become a bit like just breathing for me, making music,” she said.
The raw is on display immediately with ‘Nice Normal Woman’. It was inspired by a quote from Bette Davis in the movie All About Eve, where Davis suggests, “Write me one about a nice, normal woman who just shoots her husband.” The soundscape strays a million miles from the world of folk music to create something raw, yet nuanced as Gilmore learns to live her life by a rulebook of her own design. Less a song than a sound collage, it highlights the difference of being able to do exactly what she wants.
Powered by a big bass drumbeat, ‘Bones’ becomes in many ways a return to a more traditional sounding Gilmore, although it may be tough to determine what the new normal is these days, whatever it is, “It’s got bones” to go along with guitar and keyboard flourishes. These songs have moved well beyond the bounds of her old material. There are new challenges to face, and she’s prepared to face them head on.
Certain moments are impossible to prepare for, nothing like ‘That’s Love Motherfucker’ has been in her repertoire. “I’m trying to write simple songs/ They’re the kind the crowd sings along.” Certainly, the refrain (based on the title) will be one easy for the crowd to remember in a sing along. Yet for every song that lives on the edge, there’s another that reveals what a graceful artist she can be.
Opening with solemn piano, ‘The Next Time You Win’ begins to add weight as drums and spoken word sections reveal more of who the singer is at this juncture. ‘She Speaks in Colours’ tells quite a different tale, but one that needs to be told. It’s a song of love and loss written as a part of the BBC’s 21st Century Folk Project. It recounts the story of Delyth Raffell who tragically lost her daughter to anaphylaxis. Gilmore has given herself the opportunity to do exactly as she likes, telling the stories she wants to tell.
This is a very different Thea Gilmore than has been seen before. It may take some getting used to who she is now. There are times when she speaks clearly rather than having her singing cloud her words. The guitar and keyboards of ‘The Bright Service’ establish a theme that gets reinforced by a spoken word section that includes some of the most startling lines one would expect from Gilmore.
Thea Gilmore tells the truth, her truth. No one could ask for anything more. This is a bold new beginning.