Irish singer-songwriter Imelda May’s latest outing, Slip of the Tongue, is a far cry from her early rockabilly output. However, this isn’t such a huge leap from her last album way back in 2017, Life Love Flesh Blood, which was decidedly moodier. Slip of the Tongue’s most evident difference from May’s previous album is that it is a spoken word poetry album. The slim release, just 16 minutes, is concise and direct. It doesn’t feel half-baked despite its length but feels like a creative purge that May felt necessary at this time. The writing is timely, too, with the penultimate track referencing the change of life brought on by the pandemic. The addition of subtle, often orchestral, music underneath each track buoys the poems further.
The music of this album is fairly basic and works well because of its repetitive nature. With each track, a theme will emerge—a thumping beat (“Elephant”) or plucky strings (“GBH”)—and then repeat for the track. This creates a baseline that allows us to focus on May’s words. It certainly isn’t hard to feel compelled to listen to May’s dulcet Irish voice whispering to you for minutes at a time, but the instrumental pieces make the collection that much more accessible.
The subjects are clearly thoughts and issues May is concerned with and enjoys ruminating over. That often means that while some of the topics are fairly grounded and typical, resulting in verse that isn’t completely mind-blowing, May’s interest in them is real, and her delivery feels dedicated and impassioned. So while the topics of “elephants in the room” and “what is love?” (As described in “Elephant” and “Home”) are not so fresh, May makes them interesting through her voice.
May also has fun with changing her rhythms and rhyme schemes. The first time you get to enjoy this shift is from “Home,” which opens the album with a soft orchestral background creating subtle tension as May describes what “love” is, to “GBH.” “GBH” is supported by plucky, nearly mischievous strings as May sings about “grievous battery harm [that] replaces previous flattery and charm.” While this poem is playful, the subject matter is reminiscent of an out-of-date Sex and the City episode. Are sex toys and masturbation ruining intimacy? I couldn’t help but think that isn’t a binary situation.
A lot of these tracks explore considerations on womanhood, love, and family. “Becoming” is supported by a soft female chorus as May delivers her female empowerment thoughts. She speaks, “I am the seed, I am the Earth…I’m matriarch/I am I/I am we/ I am woman/I am me.” In “Stargazer,” May devotes some time to her child and the process of bringing her into the world, bringing Slip of the Tongue full circle from its initial considerations of love.
“Stay,” the pandemic-inspired track has some thoughtful elements but becomes a bit disappointing upon closer listen. While the sounds of nature create a serene tone, May’s takeaways from time spent at home feel a bit hollow. She considers a life afterward where we can try and keep “the good bits: time with the kids and dog, and neighbors leaving stuff on the step/…no sweat ‘bout not getting dressed/hearing birds again.” While these sentiments may have been felt by more in April, they feel a bit feckless by now.
However, despite that, these tracks are fairly interesting for the listener willing to check them out. The slim size of the album is just right for the pedestrian nature of the tracks and its bare-bones production style. It’s a creative endeavor from an artist willing to evolve from her original “form,” and because of that, it is compelling.