Whether misfortune follows folk singers or they mine misery like it’s going out of fashion, no one can accuse Emmy The Great of not suffering for her art. Left by her husband-to-be for the ministry, the fact she wasn’t going to struggle for material for her sophomore LP was probably small consolation. Surprisingly however, Emma-Lee Moss didn’t take the Bon Iver approach to heartbreak and lacerate herself on acetate.
Instead, ‘Virtue’ is a subdued affair largely written as a series of open letters to women with problems of their own to address, including that ever-feted damsel Juliet. Although this measure of removal avoids a ‘woe is me’ aura that could have consumed the record, it regrettably fails to fill the gap with something substantial.
It’s no coincidence that ‘Trellick Tower’ is both the record’s most explicit and best track, addressing head-on the loss of Emmy’s fiancé to religion. “You’ve propelled yourself into the arms of God and Christ and all the saints, now I’ve been walking through our house like separation made it sacred,” mourns a pained Miss Moss. Whilst ‘Iris’ and ‘Exit Tower/ Juliet’s Theme’ are hardly disasters, their fantastical nature sweetens the sucker punch so that it’s hard to notice when it hits.
Technically, ‘Virtue’ is a more accomplished affair than 2009’s ‘First Love’. ‘A Woman, A Woman, A Century Of Sleep’ is as colloquial as its title suggests, yet the stabbing synth and shrill choir that contain its eerie nature are well applied. Less successfully ‘Dinosaur Sex’ aches with waves of trembling echo guitar which despite setting a moribund scene, don’t form an enticing enough appetiser for an album opener.
Still, where Emmy tones down the instrumentation the album hits its stride. Both ‘North’ and ‘Creation’ are all the better for their stripped back nature, affording breathing room for their creator’s alluring way with words. “These days I have to write down almost every thought I’ve held, so scared I am of becoming of forgetting how it felt”, reads an affecting offering of first-person anguish on ‘Paper Forest (In the Afterglow of Rapture)’.
Whether this is pure metaphor or honest admission, it’s a reminder that Emmy had the material to avoid drawing upon the abstract sorrow of others when writing her latest album. Regrettably she chose not to use it.