Kirsty MacColl was surrounded by music from birth. Her father was folk legend Ewan MacColl and her mother dancer Jean Newlove. She and her brothers demonstrated an interest — and talent — for music from an early age. After finishing school, Kirsty began singing backup with a local punk band, Drug Addix. An executive at Stiff Records heard their EP and was unimpressed, except for the heavenly voice of the backing singer. Kirsty was signed to the label and released her debut single, They Don’t Know — later a trans-Atlantic hit for Tracey Ullman. She continued to release singles and one album with little impact. Stiff went out of business, leaving her without a label and with some confusion about her contractual obligations.
She met and married superstar producer Steve Lillywhite, who made the most of her vocal talents on many of the songs he produced. Her uncanny sense of harmony, strong work ethic, and ability to blend with a variety of singers brought her into high demand. She worked with dozens of artists, most notably the Pogues, Billy Bragg, and the Wonder Stuff. Her work with the Pogues landed her a #2 single in the UK and a new record deal. In late 1988, she headed into the studio and turned out an amazing album tha proved without a doubt that she was more than just a brilliant backup singer.
||May 8, 1989
- Free World
- Mother’s Ruin
- No Victims
- Fifteen Minutes
- Don’t Come the Cowboy With Me, Sonny Jim!
- Tread Lightly
- What Do Pretty Girls Do?
- Dancing In Limbo
- The End of A Perfect Day
- You and Me Baby
Kite shows off her songwriting, featuring only one cover and three co-writing credits (two with guitarist Johnny Marr, who appears on the album as well). Her sense of fun, skepticism about human motives, and sharp insights form a solid set of tracks, all graced with her amazing vocals.
Things kick off with the sharp Innocence, a track that ironically negates its title as it dissects a heartless executive for his behavior. Witty and pointed, it announces her impatience with the disingenuous. Free World looks at a world crumbling around the edges, demanding personal action to improve the situation. They create a nice one-two punch, announcing Kirsty’s renewed power. Mother’s Ruin slows down the pace while looking at a more personal disintegration. It’s a sad, lovely song that shows off a near-country aspect of her vocals. Next up is the one cover, Ray Davies’ Days, a nostalgic song about lost love. She makes the most of it, lending the song a tender energy.
After those darker ponderings, Kirsty announces her determination with the potent No Victims. It’s a nice testament, especially as she recaptures her career. With some nice sequencing, Fifteen Minutes, looks at how fleeting fame can by, while also skewering someone who might have had fourteen minutes more than he deserved. A trademark of Kirsty’s songwriting is the brilliant kiss-off song. Don’t Come the Cowboy With Me, Sonny Jim! is a perfect example. With a lovely waltz tempo and more bracing wit, she puts an errant suitor firmly in his place. Tread Lightly shows off another side, making it clear that there is fragility mixed with the determination. It’s a lovely song of tenderness and need, perfectly sung.
What Do Pretty Girls Do? is another look at how fleeting success can be. Sympathetic and demanding at the same time, it’s a powerful look at the pressures on women to conform to an arbitrary beauty standard. Dancing In Limbo is a nicely crafted song about a stagnant relationship. The fragile, circular music perfectly fits the lyrics, capturing a sense of hopelessness. The End of A Perfect Day, on the other hand, is a charming celebration of a wonderful romance. Coy and forthcoming by turns, Kirsty turns in a very fine vocal, making the most of the song. She saves the best for last, ending the album with the beautiful You and Me Baby. It’s one of the finest songs of her career, a sweet lullaby to a couple who work well together through thick and thin.
[The CD includes three bonus tracks that actually add something to the album. Teaming with Marr, she rips off a perfectly angry cover of the Smiths’ You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby. La Foret de Mimosas is an enchanting French language song of love, betrayal and vengeance. Sticking with French, she wraps things up with a spot-on cover of Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s Complainte Pour Ste. Catherine, lending it a spine-chilling vocal and spirited delivery. ]
FURTHER LISTENING: Before her tragic death in a boating accident in 2000 (at the age of 41), Kirsty MacColl continued to work with many other artists while occasionally recording her own wonderful albums. All three that followed Kite have something to offer. Electric Landlady is the most inconsistent but has some real high points as she plays with a wider variety of song styles than her usual folky pop. Titanic Days is her darkest album, featuring some of her best-known songs. The finest is Tropical Brainstorm, a joyous album that announced her powerful return to music just before her death. Galore is a solid compilation of album tracks and singles that covers most of her career.