It’s hard to imagine how anyone so joyfully sharp-tongued could have worked so long in the shadows, singing background harmony for the likes of Morrissey, former lead singer of the Smiths, and the Rolling Stones. Kirsty MacColl — daughter of Scottish folksinger Ewan MacColl — did record an album of her own in 1981. But it was released only in England, where two singles became chart hits.
Now she explodes in a jangle of massed guitars — as many as five at once — singing country-tinged songs notable as much for their point of view as for their sound and melodic snap. Her targets include men who sleep with women and then act as if they’d never seen them before (”Don’t Come the Cowboy With Me, Sonny Jim”), party girls who don’t know they’ll have to grow up (”What Do Pretty Girls Do?”), and the policies of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (”Free World”).
Other songwriters have shot arrows at those targets before. But one thing that sets MacColl apart is her tartness. ”There’s Suzy-Ann with her tits and curls,” she spits in ”Fifteen Minutes,” a song about empty glamour and temporary fame. And here’s how a coldhearted cowboy ends a romp with some poor deluded woman: ”The boots just go back on/The socks that had stayed on.”
MacColl can be tender, too, even sonically. She cushions the blare of all those rampant guitars with violins — six at a time — and the bright harmony of her own voice multitracked against itself. But it’s her edge you’re likely to remember.