The truth is none of us are really ready for the big moments. We don’t ask for our lives to change. But they do. So what are we? Helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come, you can’t help that. It’s what you do after them that counts. That’s how you find out who you really are.
So yes this coronavirus outbreak has involved me just obsessively listening to music and watching episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (fans may recognise the reference in the introduction). That’s who I am. That’s what has got me through one of the craziest weeks in world history (and I’ve seen some serious shit). All I can say is thank god for Brandy Clark and this new album Your Life is a Record because otherwise I think I would have just submerged myself in a bath of hand sanitiser and refused to come out (well I would have if I actually had any).
If, like Brandy sings on the opening track I’ll Be the Sad Song, our lives are records then right now we’re all listening to some apocalyptic horrorcore interlude that no one requested and we don’t know how long it’s going to last for. So to hear Brandy sing about how she’s happy to be a part of someone’s story even if she’s their sad song is exactly the soul soothing I needed to counteract the intense fear that the news is creating.
The real star of this album is Bigger Boat, a song about the scary state of the world written with prophetic accuracy long before this virus hit. Using the famous Jaws quote, Brandy muses on the political divide, the disturbing nature of the news and general fear over the future of the planet. Having Randy Newman guest is a genius move – his voice and presence only further underlining that mixture of irreverence and gravitas which the song conveys. And hey there’s a consolation to be found here too since they kill that damn shark in the end don’t they? Right? Right?
If my life was a record I’d want Brandy to write and sing every song since she just understands human experiences on such a profound level. Like how we all need a laugh sometimes, especially in times like these. So on Long Walk she offers a brutally brilliant take down of a middle aged mean girl, but it works for any everyday troll too. There’s less of these pithy, witty songs on here compared to her previous album ‘Big Day in a Small Town’, which thrived on entertaining asides but it’s nice to see that she doesn’t leave these songs behind entirely since they are such a riot to listen to.
Last time out she sang ‘Love Can Go To Hell’ and now she offers us a song called ‘Love is a Fire’. Both tell us that she’s not afraid to confront her feelings, no matter how fiery they are. Musically this one uses the strings to build the emotion, stepping away from the country genre towards a more soulful sound.
Now that doesn’t mean there isn’t county music on this record, as songs like Bad Car and Pawn Shop are great examples of that genre. Storytelling is what Brandy does best for me. By stepping into someone else’s shoes as a singer and a songwriter actually means you have to work harder to convey the feeling and make it authentic, which Brandy always does so well. On Pawn Shop there’s a heartbroken women exchanging her wedding ring and a man who gives up on his guitar and his dreams. To me this is one of the saddest and most beautiful songs I’ve heard in a long time – it belongs on a radio somewhere, but hey that’s another pipe dream that we all gave up a long time ago.
But mainly this is a breakup record and many of the songs deal directly with the aftermath of a long term relationship, such as the stunning Who You Thought I Was, the wounded Apologies and the regretful Can We Be Strangers. Who Broke Whose Heart is a rueful celebration of all that was good before the split, with Brandy concluding that nothing else matters except the fact they were in love once. There’s no bitterness anywhere on this record, only a resigned sense of acceptance that sometimes things just don’t work out. She finishes on The Past is The Past, attempting to put everything behind her and look straight ahead to the future.
So yes maybe in some far off future when I’m sitting on a crowded beach somewhere or watching the sunset before I head off to a mass gathering of more than 500 people I will listen to this album and the coronavirus will be nothing but a distant bad dream. Until then I suggest you stay indoors, wash your hands and listen to Your Life is a Record on repeat.