Love is a complicated, messy, sometimes elevating, often troubling thing.
At least that’s the impression you get from Ingrid Michaelson whose new album, Human Again, is filled with songs that tell of love’s power to trap, beguile, empower, and hurt in equal measure.
But lest you think it another rant against the cruel absurdities of life, and the way love has done her wrong, think again.
For though she tells sobering tales of men who have made love a game of endless emotional combat (“This is War”) or who have disappointed her with their lack of willingness to fight for love (“Do it Now”) with a heartbreaking eloquence, it is all wrapped up in melodies so beautiful you don’t immediately realise the pain in the lyrics contained within.
But it is not a pity party thankfully. Or a ceaseless tirade about the evils of men and how they must be wiped from the face of the earth.
She’s hurting certainly and it hurts like hell and all the songs are suffused with an anger and a sense of betrayal that points to a relationship gone disastrously wrong, leaving a shattered woman in its wake.
But for all that, Michaelson is a grown up and is savvy enough to realise that this is just life. It’s messy. It’s bruising, and so real it hurts more than you expect it to when you’re young and wide-eyed and innocent about the jagged pits of life waiting down the road.
But it is what it is. Her willingness to embrace all the pain and the sadness, and keep feeling no matter how awful it feels, captured by a voice so delicately nuanced that you feel every tear and sigh of regret, is testament to a woman strong enough to rise from the ashes.
You can see that sentiment reflected in songs like “In the Sea” where she proclaims “No, no, don’t rescue me/I like the saltwater sting/It feels so good to feel/It feels so good just to feel something.”
And that honesty and authenticity of life experience, gritty and unburnished by the triteness of today’s culture of false positivity, where you need to be an overcomer in every part of your life or you’re not doing it right, is what is so refreshing about this gutsy album.
And the muscular music that runs the course of the album is reflective of the robust lyrical material.
From “Fire” which comes crashing in with strings so stirringly beautiful yet so strong they might just trample the ex who has hurt so much if he’s not careful, and “Palm of Your Hand” with its pounding guitars and relentless pace, here is an artist unafraid to amp up the gentleness of past music to match the grittiness of the expressed recent life experiences.
Even the ballads like the touching “Ghost”, which you can imagine being sung as the fire embers die and 3 a.m. memories wrap their heads around your heart (“I’m broken down the middle of my heart”), and “How We Love”, which perfectly captures the duality of love’s power to hurt and heal, have a robustness to them, even as the strings delicately twang and soar.
It would be tempting if you’re hurting from love gone wrong to shy away from this album, afraid that your wounds may open wider and you will never heal, but I suspect, that like this brave artist, you will find that confronting it head on is how you find a way out the other side.