Margaret Glaspy: Devotion review – A muddled high-tech transition
Singer / Songwriter
Following on from her 2016 debut, Emotions and Math, and 2018 EP Born Yesterday, Margaret Glaspy changes pace with Devotion. Exhausted after a long tour, she turned to technology for succour, with the resulting record bringing mixed results.
She is an accomplished fiddler who emerged from the roots scene in Red Bluff, California, but her second record takes in a new-found interest in Ableton and Midi, and an obsession with the singular but expansive vision of the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen. But there are nods back to her foundation stones, such as the country-pop Without Him, with its bouncy basslines, and the minimalist but reverb-heavy You Amaze Me, which is reminiscent of some of Feist’s earlier work.
But when the enthusiasm for technology takes over, it makes the record seem disjointed; Killing What Keeps Us Alive is an up-tempo, stylish production, but becomes slick and syrupy, with anaemic robotic vocal filters, Young Love’s sloping, synth-guitar hybrid is a confusing departure, as is the scuzzed-up R&B of You’ve Got My Number, which foregrounds What’s the Point – a strange 1980s-industrial-influenced anthem about disappointment; “everyone’s got a home run, and you’re still on first” – but it disappointingly doesn’t bare any teeth. The driving drums on So Wrong It’s Right are interesting, but the vocal effects takes us somewhere less so, and Heartbreak takes us on a detour to trip-hop, a glossy cousin of Aim’s Good Disease from 2002’s Hinterland. There is a definite turn towards something more pop-driven, with Glaspy caught between many worlds, which pulls focus.
Consequences is probably the highlight of the record, its careworn tone referencing the best of Rufus Wainwright, with its haunted piano and swirling sonic textures
She says the album is “not about being righteous or all-knowing, it’s about letting love in even when you don’t know what will happen. It’s about devoting your heart to someone or something”, and that sense comes through in the most pared-back songs, which tend to be the most interesting. Stay with Me brings us back to the bare essentials, with its affecting piano melody. Title song Devotion, with its easy pacing, sultry atmosphere, clear vocal and message about the freedom that comes from being honest. But Consequences is probably the highlight of the record, its careworn tone referencing the best of Rufus Wainwright, with its haunted piano and swirling sonic textures, textures that suggest a wave approaching, a transformative act. It is a masterful ending, and a perfect parting shot, with Glaspy letting us know where she has been and where she might be hoping to go. Devotion advocates for an artist in transition; a little muddled, with a lot of potential.