Many musicians strive for those perfect lyrics, agonise for hours over a half-rhyme or try to fit their words into a rhythm. A lot of these give up in their pursuit of lyrical impeccability and fill in the gaps with oh’s and nah’s.
Little Machine do not have this luxury of laziness, to get to the end of a day’s work with a half-completed song and say, ‘that’s good enough, put it on the record’. That’s because they do not write the lyrics for their songs, but employ the talents of poets as far back as Sappho in 600BC.
The challenge for the trio is not creating music that captures their own emotions but that of the poet in their time period while making it accessible to modern listeners. It’s fair to say Little Machine have done a great job, melding poems into verses, choruses and refrains without altering the meaning of the originals.
Title track ‘Madam Life’ exemplifies this. The original poem is four stanzas without any repetitions. Little Machine’s version has a morbid organ opening and a devilish violin solo that immerses the listener into Henley’s macabre words. Creative licence is exercised further through the repetition of the last two stanzas, emphasising the violent climax of the poem. What’s really nice about this and other songs on the album is the rhymes aren’t obvious (or sometimes don’t rhyme at all!), meaning the lyrics are the forefront of the listener’s attention. This is a credit to Little Machine for staying true to poetry being about the words and is a great strength of their music.
If a genre had to be assigned then it would fall under soft rock. However, due to the range of poetry covering numerous emotions and historical periods there is variance in sound. ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ has subtle elements of classic rock, whereas the fantastic ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ opens with a crackling recording of spoken word and becomes a mournful piano ballad.
Like any good album, the final track is one that eases listeners out of the album and back into the real world. ‘So We’ll Go No More a Roving’ is a sombre closer with a catchy refrain that fades into an acoustic guitar solo to end. It’s a track that leaves one satisfied and reflective on what they’ve heard, but also in acceptance that the album is at a suitable end point.
Little Machine’s project is fascinating for both music and poetry fans. Their songs could be likened to books adapted into movies. Aspects of the source material remain, but the director adds their own flair to create something recognisable yet unique. Unlike the case with most book adaptations, Madam Life proves that the original isn’t always better.