This review was first
published on CLUAS in 2002
Other albums reviewed in 2002
A review of her album 'Night on My Side'
I had high hopes for Gemma Hayes. Her debut e.p. ('4:35am') was released in August
of last year, and hinted at a talent that was capable to growing into something
long-lasting and worthwhile. As the hype that surrounded 'Night on My Side' increased
(witnessed by Uncut placing a track of hers on their cover cd, MTV placing the single
'Hanging Around' on pretty high rotation, and a clutch of magazines - music orientated
and otherwise - falling over themselves to praise her), I became more and more wary
of whether or not the product would live up to the hype.
And my first reaction was that it didn't. I listened, and I listened, but apart from a couple of tracks I didn't hear anything that stopped me dead with amazement. But try as I might, I couldn't take it out of my CD player, I kept coming back to it. At first I couldn't figure out why, but then I realised that it has depths of sorts, with David Odlum lending similar layers of sound to this as he did to the Frames' 'For the Birds'. These layers never blur each other, but have clear boundaries which complement each other beautifully, and means you focus on something different every time you listen to it. The drums in particular, often used as nothing more than a device to drive a song on, are wonderfully focused, and give the songs depth. Paul Noonan should take some credit for this alongside Odlum, and also for his effective harmonising.
The alt-country town Gemma was trying to reach with '4:35a.m' is discovered with the title track here, a beautiful meditation on the end of a relationship, with a simple but affecting piano line that draws you in. It's the simple touches like this and the horn section at the end of 'Ran for Miles' which reward the listener, and makes it an album worth returning to. For me both 'Ran for Miles' and 'Lucky One' (although complete opposites) are the highlights of the album, with the phrase 'sky-scraping' possibly invented for 'Lucky One'.
Unfortunately on most songs Gemma's lyrics sometimes fall short of what was hinted at in her earliest performances (but she has such a seductive voice (however Americanised) that it's sometimes glossed over all to easily) however she should work on them if she wants longevity, many of her fans are liable to turn off in droves if she doesn't start offering them something to mull over while listening to the amazing background sounds.
Overall the album has about six amazing songs, two or three mediocre ones, and a couple of duds. In fairness, that's better than most albums offer, so overall I'd recommend it.