Grief and loss are two of the most powerful weapons in a songwriter’s arsenal. Most people have experienced the two emotions at one point, and, when an artist is able to tap into those so palpable feelings, it can lead to some of the most harrowing listening experiences.
From David Bowie’s “Blackstar,” in which Bowie discusses his own mortality and reflects on his life as it nears its end, to Lukas Graham’s self-titled debut album where he opens up about the death of his father, truly visceral moments are captured with such a nuance and introspection that it becomes difficult to stop listening. Sarah Mary Chadwick’s “Please Daddy” falls into the same camp, using themes of death, the human experience and the ups and downs one has to encounter to write some of the most thoughtful alternative rock music of the 21st century.
Chadwick is no stranger to the moody music found on her latest release. Since the release of her 2012 LP “Eating For Two,” Chadwick has broached the aforementioned themes explored on this album. With each passing project, she’s managed to find a way to look at things at a deeper level, and her 2019 release, “The Queen Who Stole The Sky,” was easily her darkest album, mulling over heavy questions about where we go when we die and religious symbolism in the 21st Lacanian psychoanalysis, which is the theory and practice of therapeutic treatment that also encourages thinking about the relationship between language and subjectivity. All of these themes were discussed over a 147-year-old pipe organ that was the sole instrument used on the album, actualizing in one of the most sonically dark albums of the last decade.
“Please Daddy” picks up where “The Queen Who Stole The Sky” left off, processing the grief of losing both her father and a former partner in very close succession. However, the singer-songwriter moves with a bit more spring in her step. Chadwick has brought a myriad of instruments to this album from simple trap drums to triumphant brass and powerful ivory keys. The contrast between this album and her last album is night and day.
The album opens with no time to breathe as Chadwick’s crooning voice starts the first song “When Will Death Come.” She whines, “I’m falling apart again,” aptly setting the tone for what’s ahead. The rest of the song follows an intimate piano progression with a booming horn section during the chorus. A whimsical flute creates a lighthearted backbone to the song, despite the stark lyrics.
The lyrical discussion of death on the first song transitions seamlessly into a ventilation of what comes after death on the second song “I’m Not Allowed in Heaven.” This song is much darker than its predecessor, both lyrically and sonically. The instrumentation relies on heavily amplified electric guitars and blown out drums, and the lyrics paint a picture of extreme bleakness. “Life’s not about being happy. And life’s not about having fun,” she affirms before examining her now endless search for purpose.
The album’s title track “Please Daddy” is a bit more of a return to the form Chadwick embodied in her previous work. The arrangement is anchored by a resounding grand piano, over which Chadwick laments the death of her father and how deeply she misses him. The catharsis in Chadwick’s delivery is chill-inducing, beginning the song as a woman mourning in solitude, and ending with two middle fingers to the sky in a triumphant crescendo before fading back into isolation.
“Let’s Fight” is the album’s most energetic track. Chadwick’s vocals, while still deeply intimate, are less whispered and reserved, implementing echoed layers and harmonies that lend a sense of depth to her voice and the soundscape as a whole.
“The Heart and Its Double” is another standout song, mainly because of how far removed it is from Chadwick’s usual sound. She replaces the grand piano — a commonly used tool on her sonic palette — with a synthesized electric piano. A clarinet helps to fill in the pockets of rhythm the piano can’t cover, and Chadwick’s voice is left front and center with less reverberation than she usually uses, creating an experience that, despite being as hushed and intimate as other songs, still manages to feel deeply personal.
Chadwick ends the album in a more hopeful place with the song “All Lies.” The track implements the same piano, flute, brass and trap drums as the first song, but they create a completely fresh atmosphere she can operate within. Chadwick sings about moving on from her grief. “And I’ve let go of all my pain,” she sings. “Through sheer willpower I made it leave.” Before the song ends, Chadwick’s tears are falling freely as her voice is drowned out by the instruments coming together in a resounding clash before fading into nothing.
Sarah Mary Chadwick has created an album that’s truly special with “Please Daddy.” She’s taken the heartbroken sound she’s been using and introduces it to a lighthearted instrumental palette, and the results are nothing less than astounding. “Please Daddy” is a deeply nuanced and mature album that tackles the issues Chadwick has been mulling over for the last decade, and it feels like a breakthrough on some of life’s toughest questions. By the end of the album the message is clear — the grief, the doubt and the questions may never leave you, but life keeps going on regardless.