In a world where mystique is in short supply, Laura Meade is a confirmed fan of artists not giving too much away.
“It would drive me crazy as a child,” she admits as she recalls poring over her favourite artists’ lyrics. “’What do they mean? What are they saying?’ But as an adult now, I'm like, No, you don't always want people to know off the bat.”
That philosophy informs the theme of her second solo album The Most Dangerous Woman In America. While it tells the tale of an unnamed woman grappling with the challenges of life in the public eye and the oppressive emotional toll it takes, its themes touch on issues relevant to many of us in the 21st century, especially women.
That’s one reason why she won’t be drawn on specific inspirations for the character, but prefers the listener to find their own meanings from the stories she presents.
Nonetheless, she feels that the prominent lyrical narrative is one of the points of difference between her solo output and that of Izz, the New York-based band with whom she sings alongside husband and creative partner John Galgano.
“My music tends to skew less progressive, more like art rock,” she explains. “A little more of the melodies taking the front instead of big musical passages. And with the idea of the lyrics really being super important.”
That view is borne out by the lead single, Burned At The Stake whose beguiling melodic motifs are also woven tantalisingly through much of the album. it’s a stunning introduction to the record, as a prowling undercurrent of bass follows frantically tiptoeing piano, while percussion hisses menacingly in the background and Meade fearfully breathes, “Can’t find quiet in a quiet place.”
“That’s a great line – it was John who wrote that,” she says. “And the repetition is such a powerful way to use that line. It does speak to [a situation like] fame, where you're so overly cautious and overly aware of your surroundings, and what is good for you and not good for you… Constantly there's noise, there's always noise.”
It creates a thrillingly uneasy listen, which explodes into a synth-backed climax before fizzling into sudden silence.
As well as resonating with celebrity culture, it also evokes that feeling of claustrophobia and inability to find mental and spiritual peace that so many of us experience in the 21st century. That vibe is only heightened watching the video, in which Meade is cast as something resembling a 1950s film noir heroine, nervously looking over her shoulder at mysterious figures watching her every move.
Meanwhile, the chorus “Burned at the stake, burned by mistake” was heard in the second instance by your correspondent as “Burned by the state”, which perhaps reflects how successfully a paranoid atmosphere is created that the listener can project their own meanings onto.
“I love that,” she admits. “Like, what brought you to that? I'm curious, like, what things in your life made you think that?”
That’s between me and my therapist, thanks.
Elsewhere on the album, tracks such as Iconoclast and Shape Of Shock are redolent of Steven Wilson’s Hand. Cannot. Erase in their intriguing tales of alienation accompanied by a captivating blend of electronica and urgent, emotionally charged art-rock, while the title track The Most Dangerous Woman In America recalls some of Kate Bush’s most dramatic moments. The latter song also contains another intriguing lyrical motif, as the protagonist insists, “I control the game”. As listeners, we’re not sure whether to believe her.
Meade has her own view, of course: “Without giving too much away, it’s ‘I control the game’, because there's an inner knowing. Even in the face of people and circumstances saying, ‘Nope, I don't think so,’ there's this sense of like, ‘No, don't you worry. I have this.’”
Spoken by a woman very much in control of her art – but more than happy to let us make of it what we will.