By now Imelda May’s fans have practically heard her entire new album 11 Past the Hour, as she has released at least four tracks already. Continuing her departure from rockabilly, this album is less confessional in tone as she chooses instead to deliver a mix of pop, power, and achingly beautiful balladeering, all in a socially conscious vein. Indeed, this marks a new chapter for May and finds her working with collaborators such as Ronnie Wood, Noel Gallagher and Miles Kane, on a record that brims with sensuality, spirituality, and intuition, showcasing her emotional side. The album was primarily written with co-producer Tim Bran (London Grammar, Primal Scream) and string arranger Davide Rossi (Coldplay, U2, Goldfrapp).
The string-laden title track was issued last year for Record Store Day and is the first bit of new music from May since her 2017 album Life Love Flesh Blood. Set to a swooping orchestral backdrop, the track’s dark undertones complement May’s distinctively sultry voice., basically taking the pandemic as a wake-up call for our own health and the health of the planet. Another single is the rocking “Made to Love,” recorded with Ronnie Wood on guitars and featuring on vocals the author & activist Gina Martin and lawyer & author Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu who both fight regularly for justice, equality and love. Imelda met the two at an International Women’s Day event with Annie Lennox and after hearing them speak, Imelda knew she wanted these two inspiring women to be part of her song that, far from being preachy, is galvanizing and powerful. The album also features the previously released single “Just One Kiss,” which features Noel Gallagher on vocals and Ronnie Wood on guitar.
The disarming “Breathe,” perhaps inspired by George Floyd’s death which impacted May heavily, is bathed in an orchestral din that May manages to soar above, hitting an impossibly high note at its climax. She returns to her sultry side on “Different Kinds of Love,” which builds into a buoyant melody, conveying joy. “Diamonds” is a beautiful ballad, that might be better served by stripping away some of the strings and electronics. She duets with vocalist Niall McNamee, their voices blending gorgeously, on “Don’t Let Me Stand on My Own” with sparser instrumentation in a folk-like take for better results. “In a Word” is a spoken-word piece, perhaps an outtake from May’s first ever spoken word poetry EP, Slip of the Tongue, that was released last year to critical acclaim and received global recognition for her poem ‘You Don’t Get To Be Racist and Irish’ used by the Irish government’s ReThink Ireland campaign for billboards across the country.
If you’re expecting “What We Did in the Dark” to reveal her sultry side, you couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a cacophonous number replete with electric violin, keyboards and programming, forcing May to struggle to wail above it all. “Can’t Say,” on the other hand, is a gem of a pop song with a nice melody, changes in dynamics, and May delivering both the lead and background vocals. “Solace” is representative of its title, a lush treatment of synthesizers and programming supporting her sensitive, sultry side. She has also shared as a single the standout track. “Never Look Back,” a rhythmically marching beat infectious tune with lines like “You are the match, I am the flame” and “I am the mountain, you are the creek,” setting up some curiosity as to what she will sing next.
May says the album is “my truth,” rattling off a litany of emotions she wants to convey. Yet, although she admits to being purposely eclectic, it sounds as if there is too much experimentation at play. There are some great songs here, but a more organic, less produced kind of musical accompaniment would arguably strengthen the material.