When I learned that Amy MacDonald was releasing her sophomore CD A Curious Thing this year, I was very eager to hear what she would have to offer. I thoroughly enjoyed her debut This Is The Life, and I wondered what direction her music would take. Listeners hoping for This Is The Life II will probably be disappointed as her sound has changed. This is apparent from the opener "Don't Tell Me That It's Over" as it is produced slickly compared to the more sparse style on This Is The Life. It is electric with energy from the first notes as it carries through the first chorus and yields to a brief stringed accompaniment. There is also the heavily Coldplay influenced piano theme that repeats at different parts of the song. All combined it creates a broad, sweeping sound that was nowhere to be found on This Is The Life. While it is quite different, it is also really cool. The opener sets the tone for the CD as a more mature sound - even on songs that on the surface are similar to This Is The Life lack the degree of feisty attitude. Take "This Pretty Face" for example. It has the same saloon sounding piano that "Barrowland Ballroom" had from her debut, and the theme seems to be more of regret than bravado. Listeners will also find more musical complexity on songs such as "I Got No Roots". It starts out sounding like a ballad lament for the first minute but then it builds over the next 40 seconds into a bouncy pop rocker. This song also contains the line that gives the CD its title "And this life I lead/it's a curious thing". The song that would sound the most at home on This Is The Life is the peppy "Love Love". It is the song that also seems to suffer the most of the repetitive lyrics so common on This Is The Life. A whopping nine lines in the song contain the title phase.
I've hinted at this some already, but I think that the more significant change on A Curious Thing is the perspective that MacDonald seems to have gained. I would expect that the experience of success and touring has matured her in ways beyond the roughly two and half years between recordings. On "Ordinary Life" I can't help but think of other artists (such as Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and Counting Crows Adam Duritz) who have found fame to be more than they bargained for - "I don't care about the spotlights/I don't care about the nights/All I wanted was an ordinary life." Other songs show a depth in both lyrics and instrumentation. I can't help but get a strong sense of loss listening to "My Only One". The string arrangements that serve as the primary backdrop create a bittersweet sadness that really supports the lyrics. Similarly "Troubled Soul" seems to be an earnest message to someone she knows who is hurting.
The one low spot on the CD for me is the ill-advised inclusion of the hidden track - a live recording of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark". Covering The Boss is risky business, and for MacDonald it doesn't pay off.
Overall, though, A Curious Thing is a very strong effort from Amy MacDonald. I was quite pleased with both the maturation of instrumentation and lyrical content. Some may find the changes too much, and I would encourage anyone in doubt to take advantage of online options for listening to full songs before buying. However, if you are open to change, I think you will be pleased with A Curious Thing.
Download this: Don't Tell Me That It's Over