“Other stuff needs work,” says Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson of the extra bits and pieces that comes with being a songwriter. “I can’t do production, I can barely play guitar, and I should probably do more to look after my voice. But I’m really, really good at writing songs.”
You can say that again. CMAT's debut album follows over two years of cleverly teased self-released singles, two of which – I Don't Really Care for You and I Wanna Be a Cowboy, Baby! – are included here. These and the other singles deliver on the promise of what can painlessly be described as a real skill for presenting living and breathing issues on a silver platter. What makes CMAT unique, at least in Irish terms, is that she has single-mindedly embraced pop music – spliced with hints of country, which she says is the primary influence on how she sings – as a truly compelling means of expression. Taking the stances of several country music female greats (including Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline) she gamely blends into the mix the likes of Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert and, in a telling psych-pop twist, Jenny Lewis. The vibe isn't just C&W, however, far from it, as woven throughout the album are skeins of influences that broadly testify to CMAT's grounding in classic pop.
The sequencing of songs is smart, too. Opening with Nashville – not necessarily a country song about hope and expectations dashed by a creaky sense of self-worth – and closing with I’d Want U – a bona fide country tune, complete with aching C&W guitar picking, about the way “boys don’t understand you cuz they can’t” – thematically the songs almost segue into each other. Once again, it proves CMAT’s instincts are in joyous harmony with her acutely perceptive lyrics, all of which tell stories of emotional swings and roundabouts. Each of the 12 songs have relevant examples, but Geography Teacher is a flawless case in point as it pivots from defeatism (“I hate how nothing ever goes to plan”), buoyancy (“I can’t appear too bitter, I’ve been making friends”), self-image (“I’ve dreamt about being thin in another’s hands”) and romantic despair (“love was my religion, now I’m a passionate non-believer”).
Also running through everything here is a vivid feminine perspective fused with a no-truck attitude towards solemnity. “I’m making people become interested in personal problems by being entertaining,” CMAT told this writer 12 months ago. “The more honest you can be about those problems the more people you can reach.” Job done. One of the best albums of 2022 is about to wing its way to you. – TONY CLAYTON-LEA