There’s a parallel universe somewhere where Kirsty MacColl receives all the respect she deserves. A universe where the wider public knows her for more than a decent, but overplayed, festive tune, or the wonderful, but ultimately kitsch “There’s a Guy Works Down the Chipshop Swears He’s Elvis”. A universe where her late career highlight “In These Shoes” hadn’t been co-opted by Sex and the City fans as anthem for the ridiculously over-simplified, and often counter-productive, short-hand for feminism that was ‘Girl-Power’. A universe where she is held up as the gold-standard of song writing excellence up there with Randy Newman, Kate Bush and Nigel Blackwell of Half Man Half Biscuit. A universe where her albums were every bit as brilliant as her individual songs and not slathered in unsympathetic or dated production. A universe where Galore remains career defining, but her other releases are held in equal esteem.
This isn’t that universe.
Galore remains Kirsty MacColl’s best selling release by some distance, and as a deftly avoids the production pitfalls of her albums and puts the emphasis on MacColl’s talents as a songwriter, interpreter of other’s material, vocalist, arranger, as well as her superlative grasp of exactly what made a great pop song. Sequenced in near chronological order, it features the big hits, the highlights, and only omits material from her final album, the latin flavoured Tropical Brainstorm.
Between the should-have-been-bigger hit singles on Galore is all the evidence you need to celebrate MacColl as the wilful maverick pop star that never received the breaks she deserved. Yes, the majority of MacColl’s hits, “A New England”, “Days” were cover versions, even managing to cover The Smiths without sounding like she was trying too hard, and it’s worth reminding yourself from time to time that her duet with Evan Dando of Lou Reeds “Perfect Day” pre-dates the BBC advert monstrosity by several years. But it’s as a songwriter and observer of relationships where MacColl excelled, with songs like “On the Beach”, “My Affair” and “Titanic Days” being utterly human assessments of relationships in their various stages, without once falling victim to cliché or tropes. Best of all is “Caroline”, one of the two songs recorded specifically to be included in this compilation, and as heady a mix of guilt, excitement, heartbreak, lust and a killer chorus as you are ever likely to hear. The fact that there’s no record of MacColl and Dolly Parton ever hitting the stage together to perform “Jolene” and “Caroline” sequentially is one of the great lost opportunities in the history of pop music.
Then again, that’s pretty much what Galore is about, a celebration of one of the lost opportunities in pop music. In a just and fair world, Kirsty MacColl would have been one of the biggest pop acts of the 80s and 90s, rather than just known as a guest vocalist on someone else’s record. She never let her material be dumbed down in the name of mass appeal, she pulled no punches when it came to her own failings, or the failings of others, and she was reassuringly identifiable with. She should have been the poster girl for every intelligent, funny, opinionated and complex woman, man and child with even a vague interest in popular song, and the fact that, “Fairy-tale of New York” aside, she is considered a niche artist, is absolutely criminal. Galore is simply an album that should be issued to everyone at birth, alongside a guide on how to be a decent human being.