7 Jun 2024

Review: Sabotage by Mel Parsons

From The Sampler, 9:00 am on 7 June 2024
Mel Parsons

Photo: Cartwright Creative

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Certain pop musicians treat their songs as diaries, complete with breadcrumbs for eager fans to decode. If you're feeling cynical you might wonder if this is more about helping the media sustain a hype cycle than actual artistry.

Other more modestly-famed songwriters convey depth of feeling without the details, and drift into more ambiguous territory. 

It's unclear where Christchurch's Mel Parsons sits in that spectrum, but the mystery is welcome. If you’ve ever heard her interviewed, or seen her perform, you’ll know what an impossibly cheerful presence Parsons is. 

The songs on her new album Sabotage however are frequently, piercingly sad. Who knows how much of that is playacting, dredging up bad memories, or just following her muse.

But it seems she herself has been considering this, because it keeps coming up in her lyrics.

The title track has a line in its chorus: “I cut into your heart with every note of every song”. 

And on ‘Little Sadness’, it’s more explicit, when Parsons sings “a little bit of sadness is a vital thing”. She even says it “helps [her] sing”.

This album really locates the mournful quality in Mel Parsons’ voice, and highlights what a remarkable instrument it is; oceans of feeling sounded out with apparently little effort. 

It’s at its most transportive on the drawn-out notes of ‘5432’, a phrase which is sung like a doomsday countdown, but in context is more optimistic.

Listening to Sabotage brought to mind a conversation I once had about a particularly joyful song. 

I said I didn’t know how someone could convey something so happy, and my friend, rather philosophically, pointed out that the artist had known hardship, and without that, the song's happiness was meaningless.

This album feels like the opposite, an exploration of sadness that’s more meaningful because of its creator’s positive disposition. 

Viewed this way, titles like ‘Hoping For Rain’ take on new meaning, pointing out the necessity of down times. 

The clouds do part in the final song, ‘Expectations’, which serves as a wistful goodbye. There is a line where Parsons says “I cry in your face”, but this time it feels like she’s singing it with a wink.