Fuzz bass kicks off Cruel Mistress, then we get breathy, guttural, seductive vocals without lyrics, drums, piano and sax in a sleazy and yet oddly perky arrangement; welcoming us in with a sly wink before the vocal properly begins. And when it does, there’s plenty of raunch, character, sass and confidence on hand to propel proceedings forward.
This character’s ‘got a story to tell’. Jazzy, bluesy, swinging and pumped up with swagger, the instrumental arrangement forms the perfect backdrop for a crunchy, gritty, passionate lead vocal that also sports a rapid, colourful vibrato.
The piece lopes forward in a tight-and-yet-loose-enough-to-be-cool format that ticks all of the boxes you hope for and expect from it. The backing vocals retain the leads’ character and are really tight with it, whilst put in a different box to support without swamping. It’s a clever production choice that feels nostalgic and yet also vital.
Shortly before it concludes, the tune enters a musical breakdown – the drums stutter and clatter a little, and our leading lady abandons the tremulous vibrato for a sustained ululation that’s as long as it is impressive: the band stops to listen and are then ordered to ‘pour me another drink!’ Then back we all go to the vocal riff from the top of the tune, with some tasteful ad-libs. The vocal throughout is a fascinating mix of confidence and vulnerability, which really helps sell the narrative.
Cruel Mistress is a great piece of work and pays homage to its musical forebears in all the right ways. It’s recorded in a timeless and sympathetic manner, and lives and dies by the trials and tribulations of our companion for the journey – Scarlett Siren.
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