Live Review: Emmy The Great @ The Limelight.
Anyone who knows anything about the personal life of London singer-songwriter Emmy The Great could forgive her for being just a little off. Last year, the singer’s fiancé underwent a religious conversion, and ran from the arms of Emmy to the arms of the church, leaving Emmy heartbroken, confused and stranded at her parent’s house with little more than her words to keep her company. It comes as a surprise, then, that tonight’s show is not a Morissette-aping parade of scorned vitriol and regret, but a sweet-natured collection of songs that strives to reach redemption, or a quiet understanding at least.
Clad in a floral dress and cowboy boots, Emma-Lee Moss is a master of masking deep personal strife and heartache under a dreamy wash – take the pleasant countryish twang of single ‘We Almost Had a Baby’, whose lilting, narcotised guitars mask a tale of date-rape and lost innocence. “I was only a baby, now I am what you made me,” sighs Emmy, as though she was trilling an innocuous love ballad rather than an off-kilter ode to unplanned pregnancy and emotional manipulation. And B-side ‘Canopies & Drapes’ finds Emmy rendering a bad break-up – a theme that has been revisited time and time again in pop music – into something warm, funny and distinctly relatable. The heartache is real, but it’s impossible not to titter when Emmy gurns “I feel worse than when S Club 7 broke up” over rollicking folk guitars, perfectly encapsulating the laughable melodrama of teenage heartache and ennui.
However, Emmy’s just-released album Virtue finds her scope extending a little wider than her own personal tribulations – newer tracks cover everything from the theory of evolution (‘Dinosaur Sex’) to Jung’s Cassandra Complex (‘Cassandra’), and overwrought romanticism on smouldering torch-song ‘A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep’ – boughing under lush poetic and biblical imagery, Emmy eulogises about “roses in the flowerbed, where there never used to be” and yearns to “love and be loved / to have and to hold” like some swooning Victorian heroine, wafting smelling salts under her nose and composing torrid love-notes to her sweetheart over reticently pastoral guitar.
However, it’s heartbroken closer ‘Trellick Tower’ that leaves the biggest impression – it finds Emmy finally ditching the metaphors and crafting her starkest and most plainly autobiographical song yet. Over jarring piano chords she laments over her lost lover who “propelled himself into the arms of God, and Christ, and all the angels”, wading out into the audience as and staring stock-straight into their faces she repeats “Something holy used to touch me” with all the resigned grief of a funeral mourner, or a doom-laden prophet. It might be an old trick, to craft something beautiful from a bleak situation, but as Emma-Lee Moss attests, it has lost none of its poignancy. Katherine Rodgers
(written for AU Magazine)