The premise of Melbourne based, New Zealand expat Sarah Mary Chadwick’s new album is as grand and unusual as the opening track ‘Confetti’ would suggest. The talented songwriter’s fifth album, The Queen Who Stole The Sky, was created as a commission by the City of Melbourne to create an entirely new work using the Melbourne Town Hall’s 147 year-old grand organ.
The prolific artist made short work of this task, smashing out these 11 tracks within stipulated three month period and the result is a raw and sonically unique solo record featuring only vocals and the haunting arrangement of this monumental organ. Chadwick’s characteristically intimate lyrics juxtaposed with the grandiose sound of the organ mirroring the dissonance between the small and private with the public and ceremonious. This exceptional contrast is a strength of this record but unfortunately only benefits this album so far.
The grand organ’s distinctive sound lacks a range of dynamism which is important to create division between the tracks, which left me feeling like the album was all a bit too similar. Many of the tracks were distinctive when listened to separately yet, within the context of the album, some of the tracks lost their individual power.
However there were particular stand outs, especially the albums namesake ‘The Queen Who Stole The Sky.’ This track showcased Chadwick’s masterful wordplay with a mix of beautiful imagery – “There’s no reason why I can’t make a dress made out of sky” with eloquent realism – “I’m always somewhere on the brink between living and the drink”.
The mix of optimism and cynicism is beautifully expressed in ‘Hurtle Through It.’ The strain of Chadwick’s voice against the wall of sound on this organ, takes on a positive quality within the subject matter of this track. This sonic relationship, an embodiment of the futility of an individual to be able to challenge omnipotence of life.
Lastly, a special mention to ‘Kesey Peasy’ which appears to be the most poignant and personal track on the album. While some lyrics in this song work better than others, the frankness of the line “I would have liked to known my father” has a blunt force which suits such a tender and painful emotion. Such a vulnerable admission is explained by the refrain “I can sing about it if you like,” perhaps an disclosure by Chadwick that she need to perform theses emotions in song as she cannot express them elsewhere.
An overall intriguing album, The Queen Who Stole The Sky is one I want to like but which I find difficult to listen through completely. The pervasive drone of the organ in one way, so resonant and stately also becomes heavy handed over time. The subtlety of Sarah Mary Chadwick’s lyricism also becomes obscured and takes extra work to reach through this arrangement. Nevertheless, this ambitious album holds its fair share of beauty for those listeners who get used to such an idiosyncratic arrangement.