Billie Myers hasn’t had the easiest of times. Since failing to capitalise commercially on the huge success that was ‘Kiss The Rain’ in 1997, she has moved to America, suffered from depression and bounced back in style to give us Tea & Sympathy, her third studio album and, arguably, her strongest.
It’s the mark of a talented songwriter when they are able to pen songs that are clearly straight from the heart and have their origins partly in darker moments and yet not produce something sickeningly trite and self-indulgent. On Tea & Sympathy, Myers has succeeded in purveying a definite sense that she has regained a spring in her step and that she has bounced back stronger for her experiences.
The album opens with ‘Lady Jane’, an upbeat guitar-driven number with an anthemic chorus, during which Myers sings of the ups and downs of fame; ‘You, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh / You can call me Lady Jane / I’ll give you something to remember down forget-me-not lane’. It’s a great opening track and the perfect reminder of just how distinctive Myers’ trademark vocals still are. Her luscious voice truly underpins the album.
‘Wonderful’ is irresistibly positive, an ode to simply feeling happy (‘Seven miles up above the sky / Tell them down below that I said ‘hi”) with someone. Yet, the lyrics also betray a certain emotional vulnerability as Myers sings ‘I wonder what you see in me’. Many people will relate to that sense of utterly delirious happiness in being with someone, yet still harbouring the insecurities that make us feel almost unworthy of their love. It’s a real standout track and one you are likely to have on repeat.
The vibe on ‘Send Me An Angel (…Is God Dead?) is different. The song begins with Myers quoting Genesis 1 before we are treated to a full-on dance chorus. This more uptempo sound certainly does justice to Myers’ fabulous voice and is a refreshing change of direction. That said, the lyrical content is fairly dark as Myers asks ‘Is God dead?’, before closing the track with a quotation from Revelations 22. Next up is ‘I Hope You’re Happy Now’ and what a stellar addition it is. All too often, singers who attempt to sing of the sadness of being left alone by the person they love end up producing convoluted lyrics just to seem more ‘clever’. Thankfully, Myers has no such pretensions. ‘I Hope You’re Happy Now’ is an in-your-face ‘this is how it is’ description of the pain caused by a relationship coming to and end (‘I hope you’re happy now … I’m on my own … Another drink to get me drunk / Another wall I’ll have to punch / God knows I’d kill myself to get over you’). This stark and frank representation of depression could be difficult to listen to were it not for Myers’ smooth delivery.
‘You Wear Heaven’ is a slightly weaker link. A mid-tempo country-tinged effort with nothing of note to distinguish it, despite Myers’ vocal acrobatics, this is one we would have been minded to leave on the cutting room floor. It’s not terrible as such, it just meanders to the point that it risks killing the vibe of the album as a whole. This is where ‘Anonymous’ comes in to save the day; although it’s a dark track, on which Myers sings of being invisible in your pain (‘When you’re walking on broken bones / And the skin you’re in doesn’t feel like home / And your friends turn their backs to face you / All is lost, dust-to-dust / You’re anonymous), its haunting melody, combined with Myers’ sincerity, fuelled by personal experience, make it a real highlight.
‘Not Another Love Song’ is totally different again with its rolling drum beat and exotic-sounding instrumentation. Once more, Myers describes not being good enough for someone (‘I’m a feeble excuse for an apology’), although you get a distinct sense that the song represents an acceptance that, although you’ve been made to feel unworthy, there is light at the end of the tunnel. ‘No Regrets Allowed’, as the name suggests, is a rejection of the bitterness that follows the end of a love affair as Myers insists ‘I’m not your enemy’. It’s another track with an audible country influence but hits home more assertively than ‘You Wear Heaven’.
Penultimate track ‘You Send Me Flying’ is gloriously romantic. Again, Myers manages to wear her heart on her sleeve lyrically without seeming schmaltzy. Indeed, the song is an unadulterated, unabashed anthem to the delirium of falling in love (‘You send me flying, knocking me over / You send me flying, flying over the moon for joy’). There is a hint in the lyrics, however, that Myers may have to settle for admiring from afar, as the subject of the the singer’s affections is ‘with someone else’. Despite this, the summery instrumentation and production give the song an overwhelmingly upbeat edge.
The album closes with ‘Painfully Happy’, co-written by none other than Marcella Detroit. Yet again, Myers chooses to expose her inner thoughts in their entirety. The instrumentation is absolutely beautiful with its gentle rhythm and romantic guitar inflections as Myers describes the process of treading carefully to avoid re-opening old wounds while simultaneously wanting to just let go; ‘We were painfully happy on an unmade bed of thorns / Knowing it had to be love / Because you touched me / You touched me where it hurt’. It’s the perfect closing track.
Overall, Tea & Sympathy won us over because it’s honest, sometimes painfully so. It is all too clear that the album is the product of a journey to a very dark place and the bumpy road to recovery. The best music results from the writer’s willingness to give themselves over completely in the lyrics and Myers definitely pulls no punches on the album. Despite the brutal honesty of the album, you aren’t left with a bitter taste in your mouth. Instead, what remains is a reassuring sense that the most beautiful of things can arise from the darkest of personal voids. We salute Billie Myers for it.
Standout tracks: ‘Wonderful’ / ‘You Send Me Flying’ / ‘Painfully Happy’ / ‘Not Another Love Song’