In May 2017, I went to see the German indie rock band Milky Chance at the Melbourne Town Hall. I actually made it there early to check out the support act as well. It was that girl from Gold Coast whose song “Adore” made it to #2 on the Triple J Hottest 100 countdown that same year. I couldn’t get that tune out of my head, so I was curious to see what else she had in store. “That girl” was Amy Shark.
Fast-forward four years: Amy Shark has headlined arena tours, received a few ARIA awards, written songs with Ed Sheeran, performed with Keith Urban, and had members of Blink-182 feature in her records. On 30 April she also released her second album – an album that is definitely not what I had expected.
PART 72 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE
I’d been looking forward to hearing this album for a particular reason. I couldn’t figure out exactly why, after so many cool things that have happened, Amy Shark would call her album Cry Forever. But now I think I do.
Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way – this record is, obviously, full of songs about love. But if I was to describe it in one statement only, it would be this: “A surprisingly simple and honest story about any girl’s life adventures”. And that doesn’t disqualify it from being a well-thought-out second album of a musician whose career I’ve been following almost from the beginning.
The first single from Cry Forever dropped almost a year ago, in June 2020. In my opinion, this is the closest song to the Amy Shark we got to know from her previous works. “Everybody Rise” has got that signature rock vibe mixed with pop beats where a fairly gentle verse is offset by a bold chorus. So I assumed the rest of the songs on the new album would follow suit.
When “C’MON (feat. Travis Barker)” was released in October 2020, it hinted at a new approach, though. Amy’s vocals show much more consideration and vulnerability on this track. Additionally, the soft piano start leading up to Blink-182’s drummer’s epic contribution makes it a pretty unexpected tune. I can imagine this song is also very special for Amy since her teenage idol agreed to feature in it.
The rest of the singles announcing the album, like “All The Lies About Me” or “Love Songs Ain’t For Us (feat. Keith Urban)” kept challenging my previous theory about a typical second record even more. Both of them present a very gentle side to the Gold Coast singer and a new timbre to her voice I didn’t know existed. In all fairness, when I heard the collaboration with Keith Urban, I barely recognised the female vocal. And when the self-titled track dropped just before the 30 April release date, I started being really curious about the final product.
Looking at the tracklisting and seeing songs like “Worst Day of My Life” or “Lonely Still”, naming the record Cry Forever starts making sense already. But it’s definitely not a collection of tunes whinging about life mishaps and telling lame broken heart stories. It’s a surprisingly mature look at things that happen to pretty much everyone, especially in the context of human interactions. That is particularly visible in the lyrics – Amy is very honest and open about the experiences and feelings she narrates.
The album’s simplicity is something that caught my attention right away. From the consistent story Cry Forever tells to how the songs are arranged on it and how easily “digestible” they all are.
Choosing the songs that will make it to the album is never easy. And it wasn’t in the case of Cry Forever, either. We even got a taste of what it’s like to make these hard decisions when the artists posted a funny vid with herself and her husband/manager Shane Billings arguing about that very thing.
The songs that were chosen eventually are all individual chapters, but somehow they all paint a pretty consistent Cry Forever picture. In turn, that story is illustrated through a variety of genres, depending on the song’s mood.
Opening the record is “The Wolves”, a song poising a bitter question, “What’s left of me for the wolves, just picked around the bone / I like your company, why would you leave me here all alone?” That candid, direct opinion sets the tone for what’s to come in the remaining 12 tracks. As we’re taken on a rollercoaster ride through the narrator’s ups and downs, we hear about “That Girl”, taking “Baby Steps” to fix something but also being sure that “You’ll Never Meet Anyone Like Me Again”. All that to reach a very intimate and poignant epilogue simply called “Amy Shark”.
“Worst Day of My Life” is probably one of my favourite tunes. I love the playful guitar melody that goes against the pessimistic title. The rhythm and melody feel like a proper country song fused with a modern pop beat. And it’s cool how the guitar interchanges with the piano in the second verse. “Baby Steps” is another example where the vibe itself contradicts the title in a way. A music clip about a road trip would be perfect for this uptempo song with a marching beat.
The real banger on the record for me is the shortest song, “That Girl”, with a pretty pop feel and a simple, catchy chorus. Any and every girl has probably been in this situation at least once in her life when “Everything about that girl / Everything just hurts / Everything in my entire world / Brought down by a girl”. This is also one of the album’s strengths – Amy sounds like a normal person going through everyday things in life. And she sings about them, no matter how small, mundane or trivial they seem to everyone else.
You’ll also find sweet ballads on Cry Forever. One of them is “Lonely Still”. What makes it stand out in my view are the backing vocals, echoing throughout the second part of the song. They definitely emphasise the nostalgic feeling of letting go because “you love someone”.
On a different note, I can’t shake off the feeling that some tracks on the album are fairly ambiguous and refer to more than just romantic relationships gone wrong. “The wolves are out”, “you’re making up shit and you know it”, “lately I’ve been (…) cutting all the corners, standing on shoulders” or “I’ve done all the years of hard work” could very well be metaphors for the music industry hardships and the reality of “making it” in the biz. That often brings with it disappointment – friends and/or family don’t always react the right way to someone they know becoming recognisable or famous. I’m fairly sure Amy has seen that bitter side of things in those last few years.
Let’s talk about the sonic layer for a minute. It’s one of those things that I particularly appreciate about this album. Here simplicity prevails as well. Amy mostly sticks to her guns (aka the guitars). You’ll hear piano and synths here and there, but they never overshadow the guitar sound. A few instrumental arrangements are worth mentioning, i.e. in “The Wolves” where the synths sound almost as if you were in a cathedral. The strings in “Everybody Rise” remind me of a proper orchestra section. I also like the acoustic (ukulele?) vibes in “You’ll Never Meet Anyone Like Me Again” or the guitar effects in “Miss You”.
Whilst I’m more used to Amy’s big voice, I’m impressed by how much thought she’s given to not belting out the songs (even in those moments when it would be totally justifiable) but rather sending her message in a subtle yet powerful way. The reverb is not overwhelming, either, and shows the authentic side of the artist’s vocals. And I’m a fan of all the ornaments and harmonies, too.
The only critique I have for this album is the length of the songs. They’re all perfect radio edits, mostly hitting that ideal 3-3:30 mins mark. I guess this just means adjusting to the attention span of an average listener now. And it’s also down to the specifics of Amy’s indie pop style and genre. I get that. But somehow a few of the songs felt as if they were cut short or unfinished, i.e. “Lonely Still” or “All The Lies About Me”.
All in all, this record took me by surprise. I reckon I wanted a collection of songs to rock out to. After all, the Gold Coast singer has every reason to be happy with where she is right now.
Instead, Cry Forever is a very brave attempt at showing the real Amy Shark, without the glitz and glamour. That “regular girl” has also gone through phases of heartache, anger and disappointment – feelings that we all face in our lives, regardless of our “celebrity” status. And, in all fairness, that authenticity and “levelling” with the audiences have a very calming and refreshing effect, despite the album’s tearful title.
Finally, let’s stop here for a minute and contemplate how intimate and honest the last, self-titled track on the album is. “And I’ve sacrificed all my friends / Birthdays, weddings, everything / And it’s heartbreaking but this is my dream”, sings Amy, only accompanied by an acoustic guitar. That way the lyrics can sink in better, without any unnecessary distractions. Aside from the melancholic vibe and all the harsh choices that the artist needed to make, she also reveals that she’s “winning and finally happy”.
On the day when the album dropped, the singer mentioned on her socials, “Weirdly I feel a weight off my shoulders”. And I reckon it does take real courage to volunteer so much of one’s personal life experiences to the public. It’s both a powerful and empowering thing to leave the listeners with. On the other hand, it’s pretty ballsy to finish the record on a self-titled track where the last words are “now that I’m Amy Shark”. I totally commend her for that.
Seeing how Amy Shark’s career has been accelerating in the last few years and judging by this album’s critical acclaim, I’ll probably never be able to see her in a smaller venue, like the Melbourne Town Hall, again. It’s also quite unlikely she’ll play support slots for other artists In the future. So I can only be happy that I once had a chance to hear the Gold Coast musician in a more intimate setting. When that girl singing “Adore” was just becoming Amy Shark.
P.S. I’ve just found out that we were born on the same day. So, Amy, if you’re reading this – Happy (early) Birthday!
Amy Shark’s second studio album, Cry Forever
Wonderlick Entertainment / Sony Music Australia
Released: 30 April 2021
13 tracks, 41 mins
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