Melody Pool’s impressive debut album, released three years ago, was forged in the flames of heartbreak. The pain-laced lyrics were those of a young woman not just suffering the loss of someone she loved, but the suffocating sting of betrayal. Cathartic and aching, the album’s centrepiece, ‘Henry’, was a mature and fatalistic distillation of her anger and hurt. But, conversely, The Hurting Scene‘s radiant melodies and arrangements were invariably upbeat, belying the emotional weight within.
Deep Dark Savage Heart is a far different beast. It’s a dark folk record, cast in shadowy minor chords, and a work of staggering beauty. The arrangements and melodies dance and twirl beneath the moonlight in a synergic embrace.
But while they have contrasting tones, the records share a common thread. There is an antagonist at the centre of each album. An unwanted muse that Pool defiantly stares down. On Deep Dark Savage Heart, the spectre is depression. Pool addresses her illness head-on in ‘Black Dog’, where the tropes of an Americana love song are inverted to paint life lived with the incessant animal (“All I can taste is cigarettes and the kiss you left upon my lips“). It’s the most beautiful use of the “black dog” metaphor since the Manic Street Preachers’ classic ‘Black Dog On My Shoulder’.
Within the four chambers of Pool’s Savage Heart is a witch’s brew of influences, the resulting elixir closer to the songwriter’s true essence than The Hurting Scene; from her love of dark magic and supernatural imagery, to the work of hero Stevie Nicks. Pool has shed the “country music” tag and emerged a weaver of sultry folk and irresistible pop. Oh, and the cuss words – this record comes with a deserved language warning. The Kurri Kurri-raised artist has a vocabulary to make sailors blush. On the occasions when fucks and shits trip off her honeyed tongue, they make for particularly delicious lyrical punctuation.
The album’s arrangements, a collaboration with Nashville producer Brad Jones, who also worked on Pool’s debut, are suitably atmospheric, entwining slinking drums and ghostly stabs and swirls of cello and violin with the singer’s own skilful guitar parts. The more buoyant pop tracks employ synth flourishes, always thoughtful and never overblown.
Pool’s major achievement on her 12-track sophomore album is that each song is individually arresting – it’s something of a masterclass. Pool’s parents could not have bestowed upon their daughter a more accurate first name. The folk artist has a natural gift for melody. Evident, too, is her decade-plus of live experience alongside father and country singer Alby. The prodigal daughter is not a 25-year-old novice who is technically coming of age, still discovering the power and nuances of her voice.
Truly talented songwriters are not necessarily “better” than their peers, but rather blessed with the unearthly ability to disguise how fucking hard it is to write a good tune. Pool makes it seem effortless. If, indeed, the songs on Deep Dark Savage Heart were laboured over during countless candle-lit evenings, drained from the ether into bottles of red wine, it is not evident in these dozen compositions. The simple directness of every track reaches out and squeezes the air from your lungs. Pool’s emotional thrust is always direct.
Deep Dark Savage Heart is laden with numerous goosebump moments. Whether it’s the climax of ‘Old Enough’, in which Pool proclaims with gut-wrenching ferocity: “I’m old enough and I am a woman now” to her smouldering songbird coo on ‘Richard’: “I was so young then, I wasn’t eighteen, not even ignorant that love could take on hate… now I have no body, I’ve only soul…”, the songwriter knows how to write an unforgettable tune. ‘Romantic Things’ is deliberate Fleetwood Mac mimicry (the title track also bears the influence) and when you can pen a tune scarily reminiscent of one of the most successful pop acts of all time, well… now Pool’s just showing off.
Which brings us to ‘Love, She Loves Me’, not so much the record’s centrepiece as it is the most discussable track on the album. It’s from the Leonard Cohen school of songwriting – vivid, inflaming, wry and provocative – and sees the songwriter playfully smite the charming, egomaniac with whom she has shared a bed. It proves ‘Henry’ was no flash in the pan. ‘Love, She Loves Me’ is Pool’s second major “fuck you” takedown anthem. But this is music for adults – had the track appeared on The Hurting Scene, it would have been a Gremlin in a room of Mogwais.
‘Love, She Loves Me’ is Pool’s summation of a futureless relationship based on decent sex: “There’s no point believing there is hope for you and I.” It defines the emotional growth evident across this new record, the verses shifting perspective between Pool and her Lothario. Contained within the song is Deep Dark Savage Heart‘s most searing moment, in which the songstress belts “You tell me she’s the only one that you adore, while I become another one of your little whores” amongst swelling strings.
The album’s epilogue is ‘Better Days’, a sunny reassurance to both listener and singer that there’s light at the end of the tunnel (“I’m casting out my darker days for something I have never known, peace with being alone“). After 11 tracks of pain and desire, the stripped-back closer proves a catharsis. It also features some of Pool’s sweetest guitar-work.
To know where Pool might go next as a songwriter is anyone’s guess. But one thing feels certain – all future grit will turn to pearls.
This review first appeared on nicholasmilligan.com
Melody Pool plays 5 Sawyers in Newcastle on May 19. Tickets on sale now.