Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Two Sides of Emma

When Emma Shapplin announced about a month and a half ago that she would be live-streaming a show (not in her living room--in a venue) at the end of May, I was excited about that but I also discovered something else. I hadn't visited her website in years probably so I wasn't aware that you can now buy her two latest albums from her site. I didn't in use fact even know of the existence of the latest one, Venere. But I'd been trying to get my hands on Dust of a Dandy for years.

It's a strange concept in today's world to not be able to get hold of something that you want. I was willing to pay; that wasn't the issue. I just couldn't find anywhere to buy her music. Emma Shapplin is French and she is very popular in Argentina, yet she can be difficult to track down in the U.S. I have the Argentinian release of Carmine Meo: it translates all the songs into Spanish. I paid a pretty penny for the EP Discovering Yourself even though it only has four songs. So yes, I was quite excited to be able to get the two new albums. It didn't seem like great timing to be ordering something from France, so I basically made my order and let myself forget about it, anticipating a long shipping time. The two CDs came yesterday, though, to my great delight.

Now I was aware that most Emma Shapplin fans were disappointed by Dust of a Dandy. Even Macadam Flower had a departure from her previous classical crossover, highly operatic style. But even with more of a quiet pop style, I think that Macadam Flower is great. Sure, it doesn't show off her voice as much as some of her other work, but not all of her albums need to do the same thing, right? So I wanted to at least have the chance to listen to Dust of a Dandy--and I could only do so by buying the album (there are short snippets available online and of course the single is out but that's all).

Dust of a Dandy is like some strange, artsy experiment. If this isn't classical crossover, what genre is it? It has kind of a quiet rock sound sometimes but also it's like a semi-acoustic den cafe somewhere. Maybe someone who knows music can describe the genre to me. Emma did sing for a rock band when she was young and you can see that in this album even more than in Macadam Flower. But it still has that quieter, emotional, explorative quality that Macadam Flower had.

I feel like I shouldn't like this album much. And yet I do; it's strangely addictive. It's raw and earthy. It explores the questions of love and value, beauty and connection, loss and discovery. I may be reading the lyrics wrong, but I get the sense over the course of the album of realizing that what you had was not as good as you thought it was--that you are beginning to see how much more you can value your own interactions with the world and the people in it. So yes, a raw and sensual look at emotion.

Venere is a complete opposite to Dust of a Dandy. It is a return to straight classical, operatic style--almost. Etterna was a distinctly Emma crossover album, but Carmine Meo was more classical and a little less crossover--and Venere is even more classical, well mainly. Orchestral background and the chorus sometimes accompanying. I think there's only one dog barking at the end of one song and I think just one lightning sound; Etterna had I think more random, artsy sounds than that.

Despite being a complete opposite to Dust of a Dandy, the latter album leads quite well into Venere, especially with the final track of "Pie Jesu" (a different song from the usual) to lead in with more of a classical-type sound. Venere takes the lesson learned (in my interpretation of) the raw album and translates it into this atmospheric, operatic, soaring up above the thunderstorm sound. It's kind of like the carnal and then the ethereal. The two albums don't have anything to do with one another and don't even seem like they're by the same artist--except that they're so deeply similar on an emotional level.

And this is why I love Emma Shapplin's style in general. I view art through emotion and so whether she is leaning more to one genre or another, her use of emotion remains the same. She explores the emotional quality of sound through both the music and the diction. Sometimes her ability to put words together in a way that simply sounds right reminds me of John Keats, my favorite poet of the Romantics.

So I am pleased with both of these two albums--looking at them as pieces within the larger framework of Emma's work as a whole. On its own, I probably wouldn't have much (if any) interest in Dust of a Dandy. But as a piece of the whole, I'll take it. And as the prequel to Venere, well, that works strangely wonderfully.

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