Andy Michaels – Incendiary Heart – Album Review
Right from the drop with the ukulele led melody that opens up his new record with such notably charming sound, you can tell that Andy Michaels is gonna make a strong return in 2019 with his latest record, Incendiary Heart. “Darling It Hurts Unplugged” keeps it simple & sweet on the surface, brilliantly capitalizing on the space in the song just as much as any note you’ll hear played, clever creating moments that make an impact from the gentle whispering vocals from Andy to the stunning female vocals backing him up. Underneath the surface, lyrically, as the title would certainly imply, “Darling It Hurts Unplugged” isn’t all sunshine & rainbows by any stretch of the imagination – but you’ll be surprised that, even with as heartbreaking as many of these lines will be, the sound itself is endlessly inviting. “Darling It Hurts Unplugged” sparkles and shimmers itself into place, immediately taking you out of your own world and placing you comfortably within the gentle confines of Andy’s world instead. As I discovered the last time around in reviewing his music last year – that’s always a great place to be. His storyteller’s spirit instantly shines on this first impression, and he puts in quite a noteworthy performance on the microphone right off the bat on his new album, raising the stakes with the female vocals & big chorus-line of backing-vocals transitioning this tune into a soulful, stellar, & smooth finale.
Dude writes great hooks and has an extremely pleasant vibe running through his emotionally-complex tunes…that’s just a fact – we know that from his last record called Revisited from 2018. “Only Love (Knows The Meaning Of Goodbye)” is a solid example of that contrast coming out once again through the uplifting sound of the chorus he Michaels creates on this second track from Incendiary Heart. I’ll put it this way…for myself personally, I feel like the hooks of the verse were where this song was at for me – and for just about everyone else out there, it’s gonna be the brightened-up chorus of this tune – so take that to your own Incendiary Heart, both the main elements of this song come out really tight & strong. The strings & violins you’ll find throughout this entire record are pure sonic gold too as far as my ears are concerned…listen to how they contribute to the atmosphere of “Only Love (Knows The Meaning Of Goodbye)” – the rest of the album too of course, but you get what I mean. I really dig how you get two personalities for the price of one when it comes to this song…the curious & mysterious way the verse moves, slides, and slithers around through your speakers, oozing its creative melody towards you through sleek sound is completely impressive – and as I’ve mentioned already, chances are, it’s the expressive & colorful way this song opens up beyond what you’d expect in the chorus that’s bound to connect most with the people out there. So take from that what you will – one way or the other, “Only Love (Knows The Meaning Of Goodbye)” is bound to grab your attention for one reason or another.
Tiarna Madison makes multiple impressive & essential appearances on this album that give the material real depth and a spectacular beauty through the vocals she puts in. Taking the lead on “Emerald Eyes,” there’s no doubt that they create an exceptionally gorgeous & sweet highlight in the early stages of this set-list with the charming sway of this tune heading straight for the heartstrings. Love the brightness in the music here…listening to the delicate combination of the piano & surrounding elements combined – it’s all got a seriously impressive shine to the sound that enhances the beauty in “Emerald Eyes.” You factor in the exceptional way that Tiarna combines such grace, tone, and technique – and c’mon people – I’m tellin’ ya, they’ve got this soulful collaboration completely locked-down. Brilliantly unique song when it comes right down to it – you don’t hear many tunes like “Emerald Eyes,” especially not ones that do what Andy & Tiarna are doing so exceptionally well here; this song will reach magnificent & outright epic moments with an orchestral approach, and impress just as much in its most isolated parts as well where the vocals carry the melody.
Duets like “Fireflies” come out with a genuinely captivating sound and extraordinary melody that completely hits the mark, capturing that spirit of wonder & magic perfectly in this sweetened setting. Once again showing that mastery of understanding the songs & sound he’s looking to create, the two vocalists combine gracefully & gorgeously, using the space to their advantage and getting the most out of their harmonies together. Individually, or together, you can’t lose when it comes to what you’ll hear on the microphone when it comes to “Fireflies” – this is a truly uplifting and brilliantly poetic tune. Artistically designed as well – you’ll even find this particular track ending on an excellent spoken-word note to punctuate the poetic spirit this song possesses. Michaels once again shows the strength of his songwriting through one of the record’s most delicate moments. Make no mistake – delicate’s much different than fragile…that’s the difference in what Andy writes & creates…songs as subtle, slow, and sweet as “Fireflies” are as strong as steel…the verse is captivating, and the chorus delivers the payload, straight to the heart in a powerful way you’ll truly remember. The end results become a truly fascinating tune that unfolds, rises, and falls stunningly as it transitions through its exceptional theme.
If we’re talking about single-potential and all-out accessible hooks however – I think you’ll definitely find that the title-track might induce the strongest gravitational pull towards your speakers – the chorus of this cut has such remarkably fresh energy and bouncy, inviting, friendly, and warm sound. Part of that’s great writing, part of that’s incredible execution in the music – and an even arguably larger part of the reason “Incendiary Heart” comes out so brilliantly accessible, is the stunning performance Tiarna puts into her vocals on this song. As I’ve mentioned here already and have several times on these pages throughout the years – space can make all the difference in the world – and it’s always one of Andy’s best assets when he’s creating his music. Whether it’s “Incendiary Heart” or any of the other tracks you’ll find on this record, he’s always proves he’s willing to try all kinds of new things, but he’s also relentlessly disciplined when it comes to HOW we hear these tunes, knowing exactly the right amount of what to put in the mix, where, and when. So for you songwriters out there…take a good listen to the structure of how a song like “Incendiary Heart” unfolds…listen to how much genuine interest the writing creates…listen to how everything from the music to the microphone has been handled with the confidence & care a gorgeous track like this title-tune deserves. Like much of what you’ll experience with Andy’s music, you get an outstanding range of emotions and depth within a whole smorgasbord of sound that’ll absolutely catch your attention for all the right reasons – “Incendiary Heart” just so happens to carry one of the record’s most memorable hooks by far with the incredible chorus it has.
And I’ll PROVE it to ya…I’ll be spinning “Incendiary Heart” on the next episode of the SBS Podcast before we head out on the ol’ summer break – so make sure you’re tuned-in for that coming up this week!
Songs like “Rambling Man” and “Fireflies” from earlier on really have you appreciating both just how clever the imagery in the words of these stories Andy tells in music really is – but also how his approach to the vocals always sparks the interest of us listening along with his songs. It’s not exactly like it’s a Shakespearian aside to the audience perhaps…but close in an oddly beautiful way that feels like he’s speaking & singing to each of us individually, yet bringing us all together in the process somehow! “Rambling Man” is a perfect example of how each & every word leads you straight to the next one, stringing you along willingly through the power of great storytelling & songwriting combined. Personally, I felt like dialing-back the sound to the gentle acoustic that guides “Rambling Man” after the bouncy vibes of “Incendiary Heart” really worked wonders here…that gripping way that the sheer absence of sound can snap your attention into focus in a whole different way as the song begins. Really unique and impressive musicianship guiding this song…a real case of not even always so much WHAT is played as HOW it’s played, there’s all kinds of innovation to be found within what seems like such a smooth & straightforward tune on the surface. “Rambling Man” gets another highlight performance from Michaels on the microphone, and I’d argue highlights in the guitars, percussion, and lyricism too.
Loving the piano-solo on “This Song’s For You” – but to be fully truthful, I pretty much adore this entire song. Actually, I’m sure I do. Especially the motivation that fuel’s this song! It’s not just that Andy’s created a song for me – “This Song’s For You” too! And that’s the real point of this soul-soothing gem – he’s creating a genuine moment of reprieve here…relating that, no matter how you struggle, what your struggle is, or where you’re currently at with that struggle of yours – we ALL go through things…and in that sense, we’re all here together, trying to find our way. “This Song’s For You” is a great reminder to chill out for a moment and let your mind wander freely for a minute or two to recharge the batteries – and perhaps even better, it’s a beautiful reminder that we’re never alone, and that someone we love is always there to support us as we grow-up & evolve. “This Song’s For You” sweetly celebrates the good in life…the people out there that know we’re all in this life-thing together…and that sacrifice their own needs, wants, and desires for greater, more altruistic goals…or those that show kindness & love to others. Andy’s raising a glass and toasting all you fine people out there that possess such remarkable traits…you know who you are…the nameless & unsung heroes that make our planet truly turn – “This Song’s For You” – and I think you’ll be more than honored by what you find in this tributary tune.
I would hope that tracks like “Night And Day,” which literally and audibly leave no stone unturned from performance to production, would really catch the people’s attention out there. Because I know that’s not always the case, that’s why I’m here to tell ya you can’t miss out on this tune – Andy’s done a spectacular job of creating a really unique vibe here, once again combining a progressively-artistic approach to the design & structure of this song that allows him to get some fantastic moments of colorful expression into the mix on this track. I found this cut to have a little extra…SOMETHING…that the rest didn’t – I’m not saying that makes it any better or worse…I’m just saying there’s a real powerful pull towards the sound of this song that’s highly engaging in a way you can’t take your ears off of. What I do know is, this is a highlight for Andy’s combination of storytelling & sound…”Night And Day” reveals an extraordinary depth & an atmosphere that audibly shifts all around you as it plays, with gritty spoken-word moments to enhance the mysterious vibes of this song even more for ya. It’s got an Alt-Country twinge to the sound…and right from the very beginning you can feel this tune standing-out in spectacular ways, like a great Western tale. Brilliant use of highly unique backing-vocals, the echoes in the lead-vocals, and how the beat that snaps so crisply in leading the way through this tune; Andy’s vocals continually find ways to impress your ears, getting more intense as the song plays on, rising right to the point where the guitar-solo cleverly takes over from there. With a crash, “Night And Day” whistles its way to a stripped-down ending & exit – love the adventurous spirit & writing of this song.
As I’m sure I must have commented several times in reviewing Andy’s album Revisited last year, any collaboration with the incredible vocals of Kerrie Ironside are certainly welcome to my ears. Rejoining him for “The Flame” – she’s all-out EVERYTHING here…the character and amazing tone in this stunning lady’s voice knows no limitations…absolutely 100% breathtaking performance from her on “The Flame.” Make no mistake, the music is as flawless as ever…and it certainly contributes through the stunningly sweet & dynamic structure that Andy’s created. Will it get the credit it deserves in behind the superhuman vocals supplied by Ironside? That’s probably a whole other story – she’s got a voice that’s always destined to steal the show in all the best of ways – and between the performance she’s put in, the smart editing on her vocals in the hooks, and the remarkably soulful style she inherently possesses, you get a serious highlight on Incendiary Heart with her guest appearance here on “The Flame.” Again, the overall attention to detail and focus you’ll find throughout this whole record with the stunning sound & wall-to-wall solid songwriting it has make it a real highlight of the year – performances like this one from Kerrie Ironside and other from guest star Tiarna Madison have done wonders to bring it to that extraordinary level. Loving everything about “The Flame” from its bold soulful emotions, digitalized groove, and searing tones in laced brilliantly in the background…it’s as unique as it is outstanding…love it, love it, love it.
Personally, I really dig “Only Change Stays The Same” – not JUST for the completely apt wisdom in the title, but also because this gentle & atmospheric vibe continually reaches new levels of quaint beauty as it plays on. With that sweetened pop of the snare drum, its acoustic-led melody, and Andy’s signature whispered vocal sounds…you’ll find a similarity to some of the chilled-out songs from the early records in UK-based band Feeder’s catalog when they weren’t hauling out their distortion pedals all the time. Kind of like “21st Century Meltdown” but slowed down even more in the verses of “Only Change Stays The Same”…that similar magnificent pop to the sound of the drums, and incredibly small, tiny, and wonderful vocal melodies at its core. There’s always going to be a smart wisdom & storytelling akin to Peter Gabriel that you’ll find in Andy’s music as well…which I’m sure is welcome to many ears out there. The true beauty about what this man does though, is that he’s not really anything other than his own authentic self…sure you’ll stumble upon the occasional moment or two that’ll remind you of someone else or some other artist you’ve heard for a tiny piece or fragment of a song – but for the vast majority, Andy Michaels has a sound he can genuinely call his own, even with his music being as versatile as it is.
I also think that “A Hummingbird (That Sings)” would stand a huge chance of being a solid single to bring people into this record – there’s definitely a strong argument to be made that it’s one of the most unique songs you’ll hear in this set-list when comparing each track to the others on this album. Andy tries a whole range of new ideas here…you could even make a claim that this is one of the more experimental tunes you’ll find in his catalog – yet once again, you’ll be surprised at just how many access points & gateways there are to a song that tries so many new ideas in the process. Nothing falls flat here whatsoever – I’d challenge that “A Hummingbird (That Sings)” is a stunning example of what embracing the creative freedom that music affords us all as artists, sounds like at its maximum potential. Playing with texture, tone, and theme – “A Hummingbird (That Sings)” stands out from the surface to everything happening underneath – it’s a genuinely chilled-out party-tune that beckons you to listen to its highly inviting & enticing melody at all times, from what’s happening up-close to the multiple layers supporting the lead vocals. To me, this was a MASSIVE highlight on Incendiary Heart – partly because of just how different it is from the rest of the material & how effective that is in making this song stand out – but also completely in-part due to the insightfully innovative and wonderfully creative song this really IS. 100% impressed by just how much this song creates its warm & inviting neon-glow and colorful array of sounds from the music to the brilliant way the vocals are woven into this track so expertly.
“I Can Fly” is probably going to resonate as one of the record’s most powerful moments for sure – the story of this song makes for some real tear-inducing sound coming through your speakers. I’ll admit, there’s a huge jump in between the emotions of a song like this and the upbeat nature of “A Hummingbird (That Sings)” right beforehand…BUT…to be quite honest, I didn’t feel the jarring of that transition like I would have assumed I would have here. To me, that comes down to the exceptional songwriting of Andy Michaels and just how genuinely interesting his lyricism & music can truly be – even though this is miles away from the pepped-up vibes & playful attitude of “A Hummingbird (That Sings),” it’s through the strength of Andy’s material that you can go from one highly different idea to the other and not feel the bump in the road as the record shifts gears. That remarkable all-knowing sound of humble wisdom he brings to his words always creates a comforting atmosphere, which he will in the verses here – and he’ll give you a dose of a more Rock-influenced side of his music with the way he’ll surge into the chorus. The contrast is excellent…you’ll find some of the more potent words & lyrics in the verses, yet that might be the most accessible part to listen to at the same time – where the words become more hopeful & the song expands into the chorus, you’ll find the hooks & emotion quite redeeming. Andy’s capable of writing verses that can rival the hook & pull of any chorus out there – and I’d argue that could be the case of “I Can Fly” – which for a songwriter, that’s probably not a bad thing at all considering the verses will always be where the majority of the words are. I dig the passion he puts into the way he sings the chorus…and for as much of the theme as I can glean from his words, I really thought the tale told throughout “I Can Fly” was compelling, real, and written with authentic sincerity.
Andy’s got an exceptional way of creating rhythms, vibes, and atmospheres that incorporate a world-beat that always has an uplifting energy to it…kind of like how the music of the Lion King worked. I know, I know, it’s a bizarre comparison, but it’s honestly all I got! It’s the kind of vibe that really comes from all the instruments combined working as one solid entity & unit I suppose…like how things like the strumming of the guitars add so much to the rhythm & percussion of a song like “Planet 8.” Obviously when it comes to the end results of how the Andy’s songs and the freakin’ Lion King are a million miles different – but you’ll appreciate that his penchant for adding in a theatrical thread always plays a significant role in just how much character he creates in his music. And this cut isn’t based in any kind of jungle – it’s entirely interplanetary! LISTEN to the sheer freakin’ brilliance of the lyrics here…and the cautionary tale that “Planet 8” ultimately creates in the process of telling this tale of different attempts at ‘civilization,’ reminding us of the temptations and dangers of exploiting our resources & wasting our potential along the way. While I’d love to tell ya “Planet 8” is a super hopeful tune that confirms we’ll always have another place to go after we destroy this rock we’re all floating upon in one way or the other – it’s quite the opposite. If anything, “Planet 8” smartly (and correctly) confirms that, were we to have the opportunity to redesign or do it all over again (and multiple times even!) – there’s more than a good chance we’d make the exact same mistakes in the pursuit of progress.
“Sticks And Stones” ends the record in an immaculately dramatic fashion, featuring Andy in a highlight duet to finish the album with genuine flair, flash, and stylistic sound. Love the massive sound of the drums, love the piano melody, the mysterious strings, the flawless way that both singers tackle this last tune with such resounding confidence and strong tones – Andy ends Incendiary Heart on a noteworthy highlight for sure. I don’t know if it was the incredible finale that “Sticks And Stones” created, or the entire set-list combined – but I can tell ya, that every time I got to the end of this song, I was like, ‘MAN – this record just flew right by didn’t it? I better listen again.’ And I would…again…and again…and again. You get the point – Michaels has certainly done it again and cracked the bat for the second year straight with extremely impressive music that has genuine identity and high quality ideas on display at all times. From the finger snaps to the wild way that “Sticks And Stones” reveals its biggest moments as this song plays on – there’s a beautiful churn at work that gives this final track a powerful depth as it plays on – and the vocals you’ll discover on this last tune continually impress at all times. It’s pretty hard to argue against the stunning level of dedication, effort, commitment, and focus you’ll hear on Incendiary Heart – “Sticks And Stones” is every bit as much proof of that as the rest of these songs are – Andy Michaels has done an incredible job on his new record. He’s loaded with talent, and he’s surrounded by it too – he’s got an amazing way with words and a true songwriter’s gift – this is definitely an album that will connect strongly to the hearts & minds out there listening, while also exceeding the expectations and hopes of those looking for passionate musicianship, innovative ideas, and highly artistic designs. Well done Andy.
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