- 04 Mar 22
CMAT presents one of the most thrilling Irish pop debuts of the century
As the initially promised two weeks of lockdown continued to roll on in 2020, CMAT, a then relatively little-known singer-songwriter from Dublin, began sharing a string of self-released singles – packed with strange references to Kentucky Fried Chicken and deceased American comedian Rodney Dangerfield.
In many respects, the instant appeal of the songs made perfect sense.
This was pop music that didn’t try to shove phoney messages of empowerment in your face. Rather, by exploring the contradictory spaces between bold self-confidence and self-destructive impulses, the lyrics embodied the distinctly Irish tendency to laugh through the funeral. CMAT – also known as Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson – was not trying to be anyone’s role model, just her complete, unapologetic self.
While it might have been her comedic flair that first caught our attention, it’s her groundbreaking interpretation of pop that’s worth sticking around for, as her debut album, If My Wife New I’d Be Dead, attests. She confidently walks the line between defiant messer and profound talent – but as with any larger-than-life personality, there’s a flip-side, with vulnerabilities to be excavated via a careful balance of both tenderness and irreverence. It’s these moments that provoke the most remarkable lyrics: “I feel bad, ‘cause I couldn’t cry when someone I grew up with died, but I break down everytime I’m on the scales…”
The influences are wide-ranging but never scattered, from touches of Italo-disco and Kate Bush on ‘No More Virgos’, to raw folk roots on ‘Geography Teacher’. In many respects, her music feels like the next natural evolution of outlaw country – despite an evidently deep respect for the legends of the genre, there’s a healthy disregard for the more traditionalist country music establishment too.
In fact, this rebellious streak permeates every aspect of the record, with the irresistibly rough-and-ready ‘Communion’ tapping into some of the crucial concerns of her generation: “I’m never gonna own a house, or impress my family...”
The swirling, omnichord-assisted ‘Peter Bogdanovich’ marks an intriguing sonic departure, hinting at the endless production possibilities for future CMAT releases – whether featuring, in my own dream world, the likes of Dave Cobb or Jack White in the producer's chair, or something even further left-field. The track also highlights the captivating voice at the heart of the album, proving that there’s more than a brilliant knack for songwriting at play here.
Terrible spelling aside, there’s nothing on this album to indicate that this is the Dublin artist’s first rodeo. If My Wife New I’d Be Dead is undoubtedly one of the most thrilling Irish pop debuts of the century – and behind the Rhinestone Cowboy glitz and glamour, it establishes CMAT as one of the most fearlessly introspective singer-songwriters to have emerged from these shores in years.