Album Review: Ailbhe Reddy – Endless Affair

[MNRK UK; 2023]

On first glance, Ailbhe Reddy’s new album, Endless Affair, seems to document a particularly regretful and heavy night of drinking and all the aftermath that ensues: unwanted guests not leaving a party, arguments with your partner, and attempts at reconciliation in the following days. Where the Irish songwriter’s debut Personal History was introspective and vulnerable, with charged intimacy in the songs, on the surface Endless Affair is a more raggedy affair that plays loosely with colouring outside the box.

While, for the most part, Reddy keeps the same setup as before, the amp is turned up that bit more here; on the rollicking “A Mess” she evokes mid-to-late 2000s British indie bands like Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand with a fuzzy freewheeling opening riff, while “I’m Losing, You’re Winning” spends the chorus spiralling into a spiteful hole. “I’m just saying things to get underneath your skin,” Reddy confesses with a charged but whimsical air. Opening track “Shitshow” sets the scene from which all the following carnage seems to stem; in front of the mirror she observes, “My God, look at the state of me,” in a moment of inebriated clarity. “I don’t recognise myself,” she admits with a plain faced tone.

Reddy does a decent job of capturing that regretful moment of being in the fray, all charged up and in an alcoholic stupor, drinking until you’re splayed out asleep on a bed fully clothed. While on the first half of “Shitshow” she’s looking at herself in the mirror, she also plays the observer across the album. “Last To Leave”, with its gritted teeth verses, calls out that one unwelcome asshole at the party who just won’t take a hint. Beneath the darting eyes, one could even read the song as an indicting commentary on the cyclical and detrimental effects of drinking culture. Elsewhere on “Bloom” she’s looking back on love that blossomed from meeting in a bathroom queue, admitting she could make it work “but my heart’s not in it.”

And after the ruckus of the opening party, this is where Endless Affair spends its time: looking back on relationships and the knotty conversations that come with accepting their end. Reddy is a keen enough lyricist to explore these trappings, and there’s definite wit and everyday wisdom here and there (“I was in pain but at least I had feeling”; “Your monologue drags in the kitchen / It’s not just your drink you’re spilling / To anybody who will listen”). Self doubt (be it from her or the other person in the story) is a heavy presence though; insecure questions like “I’m trying my best / is that not enough for you?” and “Why did you talk to everybody else first?” pierce through. Moments like these sound like breakup conversations happening in hushed tones in a cafe, or like Reddy is reading excerpts of messages exchanged in the heat of the moment.

In smaller doses this would have been fine, but Endless Affair has times where it lives up to its name and listening feels like the airing of dirty laundry in public instead of relaying constructive observations and lessons learned. At 47 minutes, the album could definitely have done with some trimming: “Damage” is perky with its bouncy drums, but has little of worth to say, “Bloom” retreads familiar melodic territory, and “Last To Leave” doesn’t take its own advice and outstays its welcome. There are also tracks like “I’m Losing, You’re Winning” and “Good Time” that feel all too shallow in terms of depth; Personal History showed us that a lot of self-examination can happen in a relatively short amount of time, but on Endless Affair one is left wanting for a more profound conclusion than simply asking “what are you doing to me?”

That is not to say that the album is without notable features. The looser, scruffier approach is definitely a welcome suit for Reddy to try, but it’s ones that reach a little further afield that capture attention better. “Inhale” sports some Radiohead-like slinky bass and piano while “Last To Leave” could be mistaken for a Sharon Van Etten track during its organ-led verses. Best of all is “Shoulder Blades”, where the chattering drums and soothing brass help make for a dynamic arrangement as Reddy details intimate moments just watching another person. It hones in on the frailty and fleeting nature of human bonding, and it quietly stands out here.

Even more gentle is “Pray For Me”, a moving ode to Reddy’s recently-deceased grandmother. The sound of traffic and birds in the background, the lo-fi acoustic setup makes for an undeniably personal moment that benefits from you leaning in closer. It feels like you are there at her grandmother’s bedside with Reddy as she hears her final words. “The radio’s on but the signal’s weak,” Reddy coos, her delicate Irish accent coming to the surface.  It’s a shame then that the track (and its moving effect) is almost lost at the end of the album. 

Changing gears for the final trio of songs, Reddy seems to abandon the fuss of relationship drama in what seems like a sudden manner. While “You Own The Room” is an inspirational song for herself about the fickle nature of audiences, final track “Motherhood” has her returning to the theme of familial ties – a theme that lingered heavily on her previous album. With nimble guitar and a bobbing rhythm, the track swells poignantly as she reflects on the sacrifices her mother made for her. “Your childhood was hard so you wanted ours to be easy,” she sings with an appreciative sweetness. In a way one could even view these tracks as a sort of trilogy (or holy trinity even) of matriarchal perspectives: “Pray For Me” for her grandmother and for remembering the past; “Motherhood” as an ode to her mother and appreciating how the present came to be; and “You Own The Room” for the future and how it is in Reddy’s own hands.

With Endless Affair, the future doesn’t seem as tantalising as it did after the release of Personal History; Reddy is almost too mature and astute a songwriter to be exploring the human condition and relationships in what can feel like an elementary manner. Thankfully though there’s just enough material boxed into Endless Affair to remain hopeful for what comes next.