Joan Armatrading Don Shewey - Essay

Don Shewey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Joan Armatrading is a loner,… but she's as matter-of-fact about it as she is about everything else: she just likes to be by herself. "I wanna be a big shot / And have ninety cars," she sings in the title tune of Me Myself I. "I wanna have a boyfriend / And a girl / For laughs / But only on Saturday / Six days to be alone / With just me myself I."

Armatrading's stubborn independence serves her well both as emotional armor and aesthetic fuel. Her songs often make a point of drawing lines around relationships—indeed, her most famous composition, the 1976 minor hit, "Love and Affection," laid down strict distinctions between romance and friendship. But she doesn't make such distinctions simply to keep people away. Instead, she seems determined not to allow her deepest feelings to be mistaken for facile moon-June lyricism. When she bares her soul, she wants it to matter.

If "Me Myself I" establishes the distance from which Armatrading views the rest of the world, the record's finale, "I Need You," indicates how close and tender she can be….

Joan Armatrading has the talent to be a superstar, though it's easy to understand why she isn't one. Her odd, individualistic approach to lyrics, melodies and rhythms doesn't lend itself to instant acceptance. While the materials are familiar, the connections between them are strange, mysterious and even eerie. But thats because Armatrading is one of those rare artists who's created her own emotional vocabulary, her own musical language, her own world.

Don Shewey, "Joan Armatrading: I Did It My Way," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1980; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 34, August 21, 1980, p. 48.