“I love pop records. That’s what I’m trying to do, I’m trying to get down to making the perfect pop single”, Kirsty proclaimed in a 1989 interview. “I remember hearing ‘See My Baby Jive’, and it made me so happy. I just wanted to make records after that. My mother told me I could do whatever I wanted to do, at a time when everyone else was telling me what I couldn’t do. She cited Dr Albert Schweitzer as a great example – someone who explored the jungle, played the cello and did great things for mankind. I didn’t know who the hell this guy was but I thought ‘Well, if Albert can do it, then so can I!‘”
Guitarist and collaborator Johnny Marr described ‘Kite’ as “the first time she’d expressed herself the way she really, really wanted to do – by that time she’d really worked herself out as a songwriter. She’d established herself as a lyricist in her own mind as well as everybody else’s. That was her first unified personal statement I think. I was really proud to be involved with it, I think it’s a fabulous record”.
Kirsty was relieved when the album came out to good reviews. “I had spent too much time on other people’s work. My ideas went completely, the longer it went before I got down to writing, the worse it got. It’s such a relief to have finished the LP and the best thing about it is that I don’t have to apologise to anyone if I play it to them!“
Here, lurking beneath a deceptively demure exterior of jaunty folk rock and Kirsty’s own lavish harmonies and rather subdued singing style, is the album which finally confirms that Kirsty MacColl can not only write a mean pop tune but can fling the verbal vitriol with the best of them. A gentle cover version of ‘Days’ apart, all the songs were written by her, some in conjunction with guitarists Pete Glenister or Johnny Marr. It’s a cornucopia of great pop tunes and catchy choruses, one tumbling right after the other, with flawless arrangements ranging from reflective solo acoustic guitar to irresistibly sprightly fiddles and flowing, tasteful rock with a dash of country. (Johnny Marr himself, David Gilmour, Simple Minds drummer Mel Gaynor and former Paul Young and Jools Holland bassist Pino Palladino are among the musicians.) And lyrically, to find a whole album of such effortlessly executed wit and wordplay with a minimum of contrivance-well, Elvis Costello must be just green with envy.
It’s the content rather than the construction that stops you in your tracks. Whether casting her beady eye over the world outside or looking at old friends or relationships, MacColl unleashes volley after volley of sardonic, withering quips. Thatcher’s values, the contrast between storybook romance and grim reality for girls or the scramble for fame itself. Her songsmith’s sympathetic eye for detail is reminiscent of Squeeze’s work at its unassuming best.
It would be rather nice to hear her voice a bit louder, if only to break through the sometimes almost suffocating gloss. Also a more critical producer than husband Steve Lillywhite might have got a bit more spirit and attack out of a rather nonchalant voice that has evidently been oohing, aaahing and generally playing second fiddle for too long. Otherwise, expect to see ‘Kite’ high on everybody’s list of favourites come the year’s end.
Ian Cranna, Q Magazine