“Don’t start now, I’m winning / And finally happy / Don’t start now, I’ve done all the years of hard work … please just don’t start now that I’m Amy Shark” sings the Australian singer-songwriter on her new single and the self-titled final song of, her second album, Cry Forever. This sparse sounding guitar-driven ballad is my introduction to Amy Shark.
‘Amy Shark’ is a heartbreakingly personal song about the lack of love and support on the journey of a woman who has now found her strength. The track feels like a letter set to music, the closure of a life chapter and a fitting finale to an album entitled Cry Forever. With such an emotional ending, I was ready for a heart-wrenching journey as I pressed play and readied myself for finding out who Amy Shark is.
I may be new to Amy Shark, but her career stretches back to 2008 when recording as Amy Cushway. Her first album under the new moniker was 2018’s Love Monster, which was a commercial and critical success in Australia. Cry Forever is her follow-up.
‘The Wolves’ opens the album with a hauntingly deep orchestral tone and whispered vocals. “I lay under the smoke and the fallen debris / You know you animals come take a bite out of me,” sings Shark above production that envelops the listener like a fog. The eerie soundscape suddenly clears as synths crash in while the vocals build into a powerful statement of an opener.
‘Everybody Rise’ maintains the tempo, blending anthemic chants, spoken vocals, and a crashing bassline with some quirky synths and distorted guitar. It has echoes of Taylor Swift’s reputation era but still manages to sound fresh. The album already feels different from the more introspective vibe I expected. The music sounds bold; the ambiance upbeat.
Demonstrating versatility, Shark veers into pop-punk territory on ‘Worst Day of My Life’, with the sadness in the lyrics translated into a bouncy singalong moshpit number. I am struck for the first time that Shark appears to lack a USP to stand out in the crowded female singer-songwriter arena. Her vocals are breezy and well delivered, but her voice lacks the originality to mark the songs out as Amy Shark numbers. This is even more evident on the Travis Barker collaboration ‘C’mon’. Despite this, there are still some nice touches; we get powerhouse vocals above the drum-heavy beat before Shark displays real vulnerability on the penultimate chorus.
‘All the Lies About Me’ is a gentle stripped-back country ballad, which again, highlights some Swift influences. ‘Miss You’ feels like the younger sibling of ‘Out of the Woods’, both in instrumental style and the tempo changes. We even get a Swiftonian “Track 7” reference. Despite the obvious influence, ‘Miss You’ grabs the listener’s attention just as the album starts to drift.
There is more of the country influence on ‘Love Songs Ain’t for Us’, which features Keith Urban on vocals and was co-written with Ed Sheeran. With the occasional twang of fiddles accompanying the gentle piano refrain and steady crash of drums, it feels like a painting-by-numbers ballad that drips with a Nashville vibe.
By this stage, we are in full ballad mode with ‘I’ll be Yours’, ‘You’ll Never Meet Anyone Like Me Again’ and ‘Lonely Still’. This trio brings the tenderness fitting to the album title with lyrics of love, loss, and loneliness. The vocals are raw and the stripped-back guitar a perfect accompaniment, but the steady drum rhythm that permeates two of these tracks reduces the sound to a cliché.
Before we close with the eponymous track ‘Amy Shark’, the album changes tone with the brilliantly fun ‘Baby Steps’. With jangly guitar and punctuated with an infectious drum beat this is a joyous offering, despite the lyrics being about recovering from a broken relationship. Maybe in the end ‘Baby Steps’ is what this album is about. After so many years in the music industry and on the back of a successful first album in her native country, Shark is taking baby steps in her bid to spread her music to a wider audience.
Cry Forever isn’t the album I was expecting after listening to the incredibly powerful ‘Amy Shark’. It is without a doubt an enjoyable listen, and in ‘The Wolves’, ‘Everybody Rise’, ’Baby Steps’ and ‘Amy Shark’ there are some real statement songs. In many ways, the album suffers not from any particular flaw of its own but the comparison with other country-inspired releases over the past year by artists such as Taylor Swift and Kelsea Ballerini. There’s a feel to Cry Forever that makes you want to love it; it feels sincere. However, I yearned for Shark to ignore her influences more, soften the imitation and show us the real Amy Shark. Despite naming a track after herself I am not sure we are any closer to knowing the answer to that one.
Words by Andrew Butcher
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