Album Review: CMAT – Crazymad, For Me

[AWAL; 2023]

Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson has a knack for making unlikely successes out of musical ideas that few others would dare attempt. With her 2022 debut If My Wife New I’d Be Dead, it was confessional, Irish country-pop, that draws equal inspiration from Katy Perry and Dolly Parton. On the follow-up Crazymad, For Me, it is… *holds breath*… a Meatloaf-inspired rock opera revolving around a hypothetical future CMAT from 20 years in the future who builds a time machine to save herself from bad decision-making, only to crashland in 1890s Paris after a bout spent in a time desert. 

It’s a wild and hugely ambitious concept that could fail spectacularly in less talented hands. Miraculously it works, thanks in no small part to the outsized force of personality of Thompson’s alter ego CMAT, who practically turns being ‘too much’ into a genre all its own. It’s an added bonus that these incisive, likeable and highly melodic tunes also succeed on a song-by-song basis, removed from the elaborate concept that surrounds them. 

Opener “California” is the album’s maximalist, tour de force mission statement – an ode to hitting the road and hoping to turn a relationship’s breakdown into a successful memoir. It’s huge in proportions, fit with layered vocals, drum swells and infectious riffs – and at the centre of it all is Thompson’s booming, multi-faceted voice that has been equated to Loretta Lynn, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, but really has no obvious point of comparison. 

Also on full display here is Thompson’s singular lyrical styling, which alternates between absurdist humour, incisive commentary and heart-wrenching confessionals. One minute, she declares she has nothing left to salvage and the next, she offers cutting commentary on pain-as-art and the ensuing consumption of it (“Everybody likes me / When my pain is in a sonnet”). In the song’s epic outro, CMAT fantasises that her memoir could one day become a movie – “They’re gonna cast Jake Gyllenhaal!”, she exclaims, “And I’m Kristen Schaal!”. The song’s final couplet provides a jarring, and hugely affecting, contrast between one of the album’s funniest lines, and one of its heaviest: “Oh no, it won a razzie / It’s all for nothing, should’ve just tried being happy.”

“California” is a pretty good litmus test for whether Crazymad, For Me is for you or not. You will likely find its theatricality and extraversion entirely exhausting or entirely exhilarating. Either way, it’s likely to leave a strong impression – CMAT doesn’t do half-measures. The following two songs see Thompson continue to craft pop music in her own image. On “Phone Me”, she pens a wurlitzer-assisted pop anthem about a toxic relationship that name checks the Wagatha Christie scandal. On the theatrical “Vincent Kompany”, ascending piano lines and slide guitar licks backdrop a compelling conversation between a past and present self – one that includes references to binge watching Gilmore Girls and going bald in an attempt to look like the titular football manager. 

There’s no song on Crazymad, For Me that could reasonably be described as minimalist, but the album does begin it’s most intimate diptych after “Vincent Kompany”, in the form of “Such A Miranda” and “Rent”. The former seems to document being in a toxic relationship with an older man, and provides one of the album’s most impactful couplets (“I’m the little mermaid / you split my legs open”). It’s a jarring and deeply affecting contrast of imagery childlike and explicit; documenting a painful loss of innocence. 

Unusually for a pop album, many of Crazymad’s best and most melodic numbers are saved for its second half. The album’s final half opens with its best song, “Where Are Your Kids Tonight?” – a duet with John Grant. Beginning with siren-like guitars, the song effectively condenses the party-turned-existential-crisis narrative of Lorde’s Melodrama into five minutes. It offers a mournful look back at youthful, reckless, supposedly-celebratory moments that find us at our most hollow. The song traverses nihilism, isolation and regret, and wraps it up in a glistening, mid-tempo, country-pop package. Nowhere is it more affecting than in the bridge, where Thompson changes perspective to reflect on her mother’s adolescence in a style that recalls Carol Ann Duffy’s “Before You Were Mine”. 

In the end, the two biggest non-”California” sing-a-longs are saved for last. The constantly-building “Stay For Something” injects a sense of classic rock swagger into the music, as Thompson attempts to find compassion for a younger self who stayed in a relationship to long (“I guess I had to stay for something / Had to stay for something good”, she declares like a battlecry). 

The closer “Have Fun!” is Crazymad at its strangest, most singular and delectable: an Irish fiddle-featuring pop tune filled with aviatic imagery, and even featuring the conspiracy theory that Jimi Hendrix is responsible for London’s population of green necked parakeets. But for all the song’s irreverence, it’s central message is widely relatable – of finally and firmly letting go of a past relationship and learning to have fun again as a result. Like the best CMAT songs, it refuses to be weighed down by self-seriousness. Reflecting on all she’d given to this doomed relationship, CMAT addresses herself firmly but playfully, “silly bitch! (woo) / You shoulda spent it on yourself”. Who knew excavating a painful past could sound this fun?