In Review: Under Stars

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It’s been almost five years now since Scottish songstress Amy Macdonald released her UK top 5 album, Life in a Beautiful Light. That musical drought has now come to an end, however, as the singer-songwriter recently graced the world with a new collection of songs in the form of her fourth record, Under Stars.

The 11-track album kicks off with the anthemic ‘Dream On’, a boisterous number that struggles against the shackles of the verses to break free in the chorus. The uptempo song, which also acts as Under Stars‘ lead single, sets a high bar for the remainder of the album with its great energy and refreshing carefree attitude as Macdonald beams about being ‘on top of the world’. The infectious, animated quality of the track is a superb accompaniment to the backdrop of a full band, and is a perfect example of how the singer excels when she blends the genres of pop and rock into one eclectic mix.

If you had any doubts that Macdonald’s interests drifted outside of the mainstream, the song that follows immediately puts any such thoughts to bed. Title track ‘Under Stars’ blares out with a powerful rock-infused intro, led by the strums of an electric guitar, as her unique twang chants along towards the chorus. The result is a rousing build-up that almost plateaus when it hits the understated climax, something which works to the song’s favour as it works towards the end. A wonderful emotive quality truly shines through in her voice in the final chorus before the track drifts off to an unexpected and premature end.

The infusion of genres continues on tracks ‘The Rise & Fall’ and ‘The Contender’, although not quite to the same effect as the album’s opening numbers. These are some of Under Stars more forgettable moments, with ‘The Rise & Fall’ only really coming to fruition with its frantic chanting two thirds in that is then unnecessarily cut in half. By the time it feels as though the song has taken a hold of you, the final chords are played and the music falls away to silence.

Under Stars also has nods to folk-inspired music, particularly when it comes to songs like ‘Automatic’ and ‘Feed My Fire’. Macdonald’s voice, while original, would not sound out of place on a country album, and it’s in these moments where she changes the pace and turns the band down a notch that another side to her musical personality is revealed. The latter track in particular is fronted by an acoustic guitar that’s gradually joined by the rest of the band as the song progresses. While the vocals rise with great gusto during the heights of the chorus, the song ultimately comes full circle and closes in the same vein as it started – just her voice and a guitar.

Amy Macdonald - Under StarsAlthough the album is not overwhelmed with down-tempo number, Under Stars does take things a little slower with tracks ‘Down By The Water’ and ‘Never Too Late’. The former is a chilled number that continues the nod to folk music, complete with a booming chorus that feels like a group unified around a campfire. The latter song, on the other hand, takes on the more traditional form of a ballad with its emotive vocal performance and incorporation of a piano and strings to  deliver the music. The song’s standing as the sole ballad on the album makes its inclusion all the more poignant, particularly when the lyrics are taken into account. Its empowering message is extraordinarily simple and conveyed so beautifully that it’s easy to become lost in the emotion of the song. This is the closest the album comes to being a tear-jerker.

This is not the only standout moment from the album though, with ‘Leap of Faith’ and ‘Prepare to Fall’ equally holding their ground alongside it as highlights. The clap-happy ‘Leap of Faith’ is a fast-paced jaunt that never puts a foot wrong, despite the eagerness with which it rushes through the song. It’s frantic rhythm never allows for a moment’s rest, giving the album (and its listener) a burst of energy that is more natural than the EDM-infused music of the charts can ever create. ‘Prepare to Fall’ is more willing to take its time, something that works to the song’s advantage. As Macdonald’s voice builds, it eventually stretches out into an intense instrumental section that gives the song a wonderful new layer of depth. It precedes another slow-burner – ‘From The Ashes’ – an enchanting final number that starts off quiet and mystical before growing with impressive power. As the title suggests, it rises like a phoenix from the ashes and soars high, closing off the album with both strength and grace.

Ultimately, Amy Macdonald’s decision to spend more time working on this album has paid off. It boasts a mixture of genres that work repeatedly to show off not only the singer’s gorgeous voice, but also her strong artistry and capabilities as a lyricist. Although she may no longer light up the singles charts like she did when ‘This Is the Life’ became a hit all over Europe a decade ago, near enough every track on her fourth album is a surefire hit in its own right. Some people just have a gift and Under Stars proves that this little singer-songwriter from Scotland has got it.

Stars (3.5)

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