Universal Music, 2009
By Sheryl Normandeau
New Zealand’s Gin Wigmore may be casually dismissed as yet another young, trendy female singer with an unusual voice and an album of retro-sounding tunes, but while she’s certainly not as crass and deliciously unstable as Amy Winehouse, she’s definitely not Duffy-esque lite. Showcasing a nasal rasp that ranges from cute to vaguely annoying, Gin Wigmore’s first full-length album, Holy Smoke, is clearly a manufactured throwback to decades before she was even born. Wigmore nonetheless manages to jump on the bandwagon with a gutsy amount of sincerity and spirit.
The opening track, “Oh My,” is a gigantic crowd-pleaser: a hand-clapping, harmonica-drenched blues-rock ditty in which Wigmore expresses utter astonishment at “being beaten in the game of love.” Continued pleas to a higher power for a new direction resolve nothing, but the result is pure sing-a-long fun, and a rollicking good start. Recent single “Hey Ho” follows, leading the listener into the smoke-filled rooms of some old jazz club while the sultry beat and heavy horns belie the singer’s sinister, threatening lyrics. It’s a carefully calculated, elaborately smooth production, and the usually whiskey-voiced Wigmore delivers her lines with a cold deliberation that isn’t found on the rest of the record.
The ponderous slow beats of “Golden Ship” and the ivory-tinkling intro to “New Revolution” truly unmask the wonder that is Wigmore’s voice. “Golden Ship,” in particular, is mostly stripped down to just the singer and a piano, exposing the utter strangeness of Wigmore’s vocals. Naked and unpolished, Wigmore’s voice is almost lazy in intervals, breaking down into near-speech as she tells her lover goodbye.
Wigmore takes a different tack in “Mr. Freakshow,” where she presses her voice into a hoarse shout above a dance-pop number reminiscent of Pink or Lily Allen (sadly, without the clever lyrics of the latter). A nonsensical chorus weak on actual words renders the tune either catchy or annoying, depending on the listener’s take, but a heavy bass line and a touch of circus organ at the end ensures a walloping party. Wigmore’s sloppy attempts at scatting continue on “One Last Look:” a fluffy pop number straight out of the 50s, complete with requisite “ooh ooh” background vocals (poodle skirts and lettered sweaters optional). It’s cutesy and boppy, and to her credit, Wigmore doesn’t once sound ironic or tired.
The current single “Too Late for Lovers” is Wigmore putting on Macy Gray, with smoky, cracked vocals over strings and acoustic guitar. Expressing the heady emotional strain of a broken relationship that she is just “passing through,” Wigmore somehow manages to sound utterly convincing.
Indeed, this is the beauty of Gin Wigmore and Holy Smoke: no matter how manufactured or pandering the songs on the album may appear, the singer unfailingly gives it her all. Factor in her undeniably quirky, rich voice, and the combination is quite interesting.