“I’m falling apart… I thought I was passed this but I’m losing it,” Sarah Mary Chadwick’s cracking voice howls over a skeletal piano ballad on ‘When Will Death Come’, the opening track to her new album. The listener is thrown into the stream-of-conscious narrative of an artist coming to terms with the recent death of her father: it’s a harrowing and painfully desperate opening.
Recalling the intimate lyricism of the late Daniel Johnston, Chadwick’s private, heartbreaking pain is conveyed emotively across the album’s opening songs. There is little time for the listener to attune to the sheer depths of Chadwick’s sorrow as she candidly and quickly reflects the emotional brutality grief often brings in its early stages. “Nothing’s bringing colour to my cheeks,” she sorrowfully sings directly to her mother on the album’s tormented title track as the anguish of loss envelops her in confusion.
Slowly and almost silently, Chadwick recalls the depression that followed her father’s death as the sheer weight of the loss overwhelmed. “Nothing stirs me,” Chadwick cries as she tries to find meaning and purpose where there often is none: she describes being “amputated from my personality” at the height of her depression. The song only gets darker as she cites Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Elliot Smith as touchstones for the crushing suicidal feelings she later experienced. “Should I follow their lead and be done?” she asks.
Whilst conversations on grief and mental health have found their way into music in recent years, Chadwick hints at the difficulties she faced when initially talking about her feelings publicly. Eventually, she does find salvation in music and art, with both enabling her to slowly recover and heal. “Pick a magic, help me through it / Is it tragic? I’ll still do it,” she asserts to gentle, soaring brass instrumentation uplifts as some momentary catharsis arrives.
It continues, too, on ‘Let’s Fight’ and ‘Make Hey’, the album’s livelier songs, which recall the New Zealand born singer’s grungier roots with her former band, Batrider. These comparisons are short lived, however. Most of the songs here see Chadwick channel musicians from her native New Zealand and now adopted Australia. Whilst the likes of Peter Jeffries, Chris Knox and Pip Proud can be heard, so too can Nick Cave and Bjork. The scarcity of the largely piano based instrumentation echoes Cave’s ‘Ghosteen’, while the use of flute evoke Bjork’s ‘Utopia’.
The sheer vulnerability of Chadwick’s lyrics continue to floor elsewhere as elegies to her father lead her to wonder about the very nature of life and death, of heaven and hell. “I’m not allowed in heaven…it’s gates do not open for me,” she sings on the gentle ‘I’m Not Allowed in Heaven.’ Across 10 songs, Chadwick does eventually find some peace, albeit a fragile one. On airy album closer, ‘All Lies’, Chadwick reveals “And I’ve let go of all my pain / Through sheer will power I made it leave.”
It’s this sheer willpower that defines ‘Please Daddy’. While the intimacy of the songs makes this a challenging listen, there is a humbling bravery here. Chadwick concludes that it’s only through honesty that any kind of peace and healing can ever be found: “And I don’t worry about the end. Death comes to all of us my, friend… I’m at peace.”