One of many Irish artists to break through during the pandemic, Dunboyne’s Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson, better known as CMAT, has successfully cemented herself as one to watch in the upcoming decade. Following a stint in the music act Bad Sea and a move to Manchester (and eventual move back to Dublin) to try and get a songwriting career off the ground, CMAT released her first few solo songs in the latter half of 2020, making a mark almost immediately with distinctive, catchy tracks like “Another Day (KFC)” and “Rodney”, which fuse country and pop sonic influences with lyrical storytelling that looks at the comedy in abject misery.
CMAT’s debut album, the intriguingly titled and purposefully misspelled If My Wife New I’d Be Dead, is the culmination of a lengthy string of pre-release singles (two of which also previously appeared on the 2021 EP Diet Baby), and acts as a cohesive and thoroughly satisfying package of songs that establishes CMAT as one of Ireland’s finest new musical acts. Her sound, style, and vision is thoroughly consistent and clear throughout the record without being one-note—her pop bona fides are clear on the glitter-stained anthems “I Don’t Really Care About You” and “No More Virgos”, while also making her love of the queens of American country abundantly clear elsewhere on tunes like “Nashville”, “I’d Want U”, and “I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby!” (which easily remains her finest work to date), handily proving her credentials as the “honky tonk girl of the GAA” she sings about on the propulsive, energetic highlight “Every Bottle (Is My Boyfriend)”.
While her hooks for days and melodic instincts are what makes CMAT’s songs so inviting to begin with, it’s her songwriting on which she prides herself, and she delivers in spades on this record. If the world is really just a setting for a cruel situational cringe comedy, then CMAT presents herself as its protagonist—she writes from a deeply dejected point of view, consistently the most pathetic, pitiable, self-loathing figure in the room, unloved and ignored by the universe. If this all sounds terribly maudlin, however, rest assured that this certainly isn’t the case—what makes CMAT’s writing truly shine is her ability to find the humour amidst the misery, managing to make the heartbreak genuinely hilarious and utterly relatable without ever veering into novelty. Her ability to create and craft a character is impressive, and references to pop culture figures like Robbie Williams and Mae West feel clever and earned.
While the songs released prior to the album are generally the cream of the crop here, there are nonetheless high points to be found amidst the deep cuts. “Peter Bogdanovich” is a twinkly, seductive ode to the late American director, and “Geography Teacher” is a rare stripped-down moment on the back end of the album, bringing CMAT’s vulnerable lyrics and captivating voice to the forefront. Indeed, if there’s a criticism to be made about the album, it’s that CMAT’s voice can sometimes feel a little lost in the mix behind the weight of the production, as well as the backing vocals occasionally feeling a little repetitive between songs and some slightly sloppy diction rendering lyrics hard to make out. Overall, however, If My Wife New I’d Be Dead is an absolutely delectable debut, a very strong first showing for CMAT that’s brimming with life and character and a highly promising sign of what’s to come later down the line in her musical career.
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