Robert Shelton

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 633

All the new songs [on Joan Armatrading's "Me Myself I"] were written in less than an hour, and she completed "When You Kisses Me" in only 10 minutes.

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"This was just a very easy album to write," she explained. "When I was ill, I had a lot of time to think about what I'd write, when I could again … I don't remember just how long. So I was able to really think about it and to jot down quite a few words. Once I started to write the songs, it just came really easy because I'd sort of prepared it, you know."

So many of her songs seemed to reflect the attitudes of "the new woman" that I felt compelled to tell her that her song "You Rope You Tie Me" might anger unliberated men. "Oh, that's not just a woman's song, you know," she countered. "It could be a man's song as well."…

This "normal sort of person", with the abnormal talent of writing from and to the heart, has often given the impression that few of her songs are drawn from personal experience. She was ready to qualify that now.

"I don't say my songs are not autobiographical, but the majority aren't. At some point, though, they have to be. Take my song 'People'. That's definitely me."…

"Some say that this new album shows more bits of me than any other. But the majority of my songs are me looking around at people and seeing what's happening. People, they give away a lot, just how they act … Some people will just come up and tell you their life story and all their problems."

She cited the genesis of her song "Your Letter", in which a woman had found a letter from her lover to another woman. Armatrading explained: "A real person actually took me into the room where she found the letter … But at a certain point, I had to say: 'Well, it's me'. It was much easier to write it by just putting myself into that woman's situation.

"Sometimes you write a song you can later turn to and say: 'Well, now I've gone through that'. You haven't actually gone through it, but a couple of months afterwards, it becomes your own experience, just like a novelist or a playwright.

"I used to say if you're going to write a novel about a murder, you don't have to go out and commit the murder to get the experience. I think you can pretty much feel from what you read and how people react, or whatever, and get the experience from that."…

"Me Myself I" marks several changes for Joan, in content, style and production. "I know that it's becoming simpler … just the form, the structures, the chords. Even lyrically, it's becoming simpler. I've always tried to write simple—not senseless—lyrics. I try to get to the point as quick as I can, so you can lose yourself. You don't have to weave around in a song-lyric before getting to the point."

Simpler, perhaps, but with a fascinating underlay of complexity and insight and the echo of voices and real-life situations. There's the new story-song about a hemmed-in young brother, "Simon," who gets the run-around from big brother and mother. "Me Myself I" is a sardonic song about autonomy, which contrasts very strongly with the longing "I Need You."…

There goes Joan Armatrading, who has the ability to work in so many veins that she holds several partisan audiences at once in peaceful co-existence. "I'm happy now … I wonder why," she'd said. I, for one, didn't wonder at all. It's been a long time coming, but she's finally getting the really broad recognition she's deserved for years.

Robert Shelton, "Me, Myself, I …," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), June 28, 1980, p. 27.

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