When a young female singer songwriter steps up to the floor armed with an acoustic guitar and a folk backing band whose members also play in other bands, the comparisons are inevitable; Laura Marling. Quite simply Alas I Cannot Swim, which was released around this time last year, was so good that it set the level for any other performer of this genre, no matter what their age or sex.
Emmy The Great has produced in First Love a collection of songs that bears many musical similarities to Marling, but the benchmark has been set so high, that this album is almost impossible to view in a favourable light. This is unfortunate as much of the debut from Emma Lee Moss is honest, personal and sung with a sweetness of voice that betrays its often darker lyrics. It is unlikely however that this album, despite its honesty, will find a place in as many hearts as Alas I Cannot Swim.
The reasons are twofold. First, fault can be found with those sweet featherweight vocals, which are unchanging from song to song. Over the course of thirteen tunes they become a little wearing. Second, some of her songs are just too slight and under whelming to fully convince. On paper Dylan sounds great, a fully traditional Celtic folk sound, pattering drums and a drop of early Belle and Sebastian, with lyrics concerning a boy who carried 13th century Italian books around that he didn’t even read. The reality is a song that passes you by like a bus in the rain. Likewise 24 which bitterly dismisses a Jack Bauer obsessed boyfriend with lines such as “Man on the screen, he has done more in a minute, than you have achieved in your whole entire life,” could be angrily great, but melodically sounds like a Suzanne Vega b-side.
When the songs do work, they are frustratingly good. We Almost Had A Baby with its warm Phil Spektor sixties girl group harmonies sees Emma throw off her ‘anti folk’ shackles and produce something rather marvellous. Likewise the title track First Love with its near plagiarism of the Cohen song Hallelujah, sucks it away from X Factor and brings it back to a better place.
But when First Love finishes, the choice to press play again or put the CD back in the box is a difficult one. The album is far from perfect, in places it is disappointingly patchy. Despite some good themes lyrically and interesting ideas, Emmy The Great has not quite lived up to her name.