Mayhem is the second major label album from Imelda May, which was released this month on Decca. May has had a considerable amount of previous success in her native Ireland (her first album Love Tattoo went triple platinum there), but her popularity is beginning to spread, with the first two singles from Mayhem charting in the UK, and a string of dates lined up for her imminent European tour. This growing success of May’s is easy to determine; not only does she have a sassy, foxy, powerful presence, in both her demeanour and vocal ability, but she also produces catchy, upbeat songs.
The jazzy, bluesy, rockabilly vibe of Mayhem is also an obvious crowd pleaser, and May submerses her work in this genre with a significant degree of panache. Musically, there is a lot of brass, surf-style guitars and double bass action. Visually, May is all wasp-waists, red lips and catty eyeliner, with her backing band sporting quiffs and 50s bowling shirts. The whole album really fits into this retro idea; her work could sit quite nicely alongside The Stray Cats, Royal Crown Review, and in her punkier numbers she could even be considered to have a musical resemblance to horror-punk groups like The Horrorpops and The Misfits.
Vocally, May is very talented, and throughout Mayhem her vocals are clearly the star of the show. She has a good vocal range, rich tone and a lot of expressivity. Retro vocal effects such as fuzz-boxes are placed over her vocals at times, but this is produced well and doesn’t mar or encroach on May’s vocal performance. The production on this album is generally very good, especially the double bass, which has been captured perfectly.
Whilst most of the tracks on this album are upbeat, there are a few slower, more melancholic tracks thrown in for good measure. Although these add a nice change of pace, the quieter, sparser instrumentation of these tracks often uncovers some fairly cheesy, weak lyrics. Kentish Town Waltz is a particular culprit here. Generally, the upbeat tracks on Mayhem are of better quality as they contain more instrumental diversity, catchier licks and divert attention from the sometimes weak lyricism. I must say though that Too Sad to Cry, is an exception here, for whilst it is incredibly melodramatic, it also demonstrates effective lyrics, great vocal and instrumental performances, and has a marvellously haunting atmosphere.