“I made exactly the record I want, and it feels very me,” Mackenzie Scott – aka Torres – has said of her latest, ‘Silver Tongue’. Her first entirely self-produced outing, the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter’s fourth album dispenses with the multiple personas she adopted on her last, 2017’s ‘Three Futures’, and the nervous first-person narratives of both her self-titled 2013 debut and its follow up, ‘Sprinter.’ ‘Silver Tongue’ is a candid, real-time account of Scott’s relationship in the here-and-now as she documents its survival via a near-miss break-up and painful affair. It’s her most personal memoir yet.
The album begins in a state of anxiety conveyed via skittering drums and sporadic synths on ‘Good Scare’. It’s held together by Scott’s otherworldly vocals as she recalls the fear of her lover abruptly leaving: “You gave me a good scare for a minute there / I had never seen that look from you before / you were eyeing all the exits.” As she explained recently, “My girlfriend was trying to leave me. I basically wrote this song from the valley of the shadow of death, desperate that she might give me another chance.”
What follows is a cinematic show-reel of Scott’s relationship as she pours over its tender details. The heady ‘Last Forest’ sees her reflecting on life with a lover so intense that she feels she has known them in a past life: “Forgive me for being forward but haven’t we done this before? / Now something jogs the memory that I’ve loved you repeatedly.” In the new wave album standout ‘Dressing America’ she remembers sleeping “with her boots on” so she can travel to her lover quickly in the night. Recounting the happier memories of her relationship often results in the album’s lightest moments: it’s here where synths soar and possibilities seem endless.
Elsewhere, Scott employs some of her most evocative lyrics yet, such as on the sparse ‘Records of Tenderness’:“You know my mind’s an overgrown orchard / Can’t get one word in front of the other”. Irregular and haphazard background electronics echo Atoms for Peace and reflect the confusion and growing fear in Scott’s voice. It’s only in the context of ‘Two of Everything’ that we perhaps understand the fear more overtly as Scott delivers a PJ Harvey-like line aimed at her lover’s lover: “To the one sharing my lover’s bed / Do you hold her when she sleeps? / Does she call you baby? / You should know she calls me baby.” Scott’s lush vocals subsequently wander between strength and fragility, of fighting for her lover and simultaneously admitting defeat.
Towards the end, Scott has untangled the knottiness of this love affair and won back her lover – something she thinks she’s done by using her “silver tongue”. “My mother told me every breath / Holds the power of life and death / My teachers warned me / Watch what you sing / Whoever’s listening will believe.” The beguiling couplets confuse as much as they intrigue: has she won her lover back simply with the power of words and music? Will it be enough?
Typically with Scott, the album’s conclusion is ambiguous. On the gentle ‘Gracious Day’, she addresses a line straight to her lover: “You moved in a wave of quiet grace / No surprise / Honey, I’m gonna love you all my life.” With the line sung over glistening synths, it’s hard to imagine anyone not being won over by an album that opens it heart as much as this.
Release date: January 31
Record label: Merge Records