Joan Armatrading Ariel Swartley - Essay

Ariel Swartley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Last year's Joan Armatrading was an intriguing mix of sensitivity and bravado—wry, confessional love lyrics and syncopated, idiosyncratic melodies. In part, Show Some Emotion is a smoother, more consistent exploration of that territory….

["Woncha Come on Home", the first cut on Show Some Emotion] is no plea for lost love, it's a woman's panic, alone in the house, jumping at every noise, fearing shadows at the window.

Part of Armatrading's appeal (to her largely female, generally well-educated following) is that she's neither unapproachably strong nor unnecessarily victimized. Joan Armatrading presented an amorous adventuress with a sense of humor. She tolerated no emotional blackmail but was not unsympathetic to the lovers who tried to run their numbers on her. Much of that affection is missing from Show Some Emotion. The title tune, "Never Is Too Late" and "Peace in Mind" all preach rather than prod. Dancing, both a pleasure and an act of self-affirmation in "Love and Affection," becomes a moral obligation in "Never Is Too Late."

The results are depressingly impersonal, as though Armatrading assumed that wider acceptance could only be purchased by burying herself—not only as a player but as a persona. Luckily she doesn't take to retirement easily, as "Mama Mercy," "Opportunity" and "Woncha Come on Home" attest. But Show Some Emotion is caught between the longing for individuality and the struggle for the legal tender—neither the mainstream bid nor the personal statement it might have been.

Ariel Swartley, "Records: 'Show Some Emotion'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1977; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 255, December 29, 1977, p. 65.