Kirsty MacColl, arguably England’s best-kept musical secret, has a welcome warning.
“Look out, America, I’m coming to a town near you.”
The acclaimed singer-songwriter is in a jovial state of mind, anxious for American listeners to sink deeply into her debut I.R.S. album “Titanic Days.”
After three albums and three labels, it’s been a long time coming.
“Well, I hope this is the one that makes it,” she said recently, “but I never go into recording thinking like that. I mean, things evolve and I don’t think there’s some sort of master plan.
“I don’t think, ‘Hmm, I’m going to write this song for America.’ I write for myself, really.
“If I had all the answers, I would’ve done it by now. It’s not worth getting all worried about it, worrying about people’s perceptions of what you do, what you don’t do. If some people get it, then great. If some don’t, then tough luck.”
It would be their loss. “Titanic Days” is MacColl’s finest effort to date, combining a biting sense of humor with social consciousness and pop sensibility.
In a way, it’s her own “Pet Sounds.”
“I’ve always wanted to make a big-sounding album,” the London-born artist says. “An album like Neil Young’s ‘Harvest,’ which was a big one for me when that came out.
“That’s one of the few records I’ve bought and worn it out on vinyl and bought it again on CD. Like that, I hope my album will have an affect on people.”
She’s well on her way with the first single, “Can’t Stop Killing You,” co-written by Johnny Marr, and the notable tracks “Soho Square,” “Angel,” “Big Boy On a Saturday Night,” and the title cut.
And then there’s “Bad,” in which the singer yearns for a walk on the wild side. “I want to try something that I’ve never had,” she sings. “Oh, look out world, I’m about to be bad.”
“You’re taught to be good all the time and not to get into any sort of confrontation,” MacColl says. “I thought it was fun to put a twist on it and say, ‘I’m gonna get me some.’
“Look, I’m surprised more people don’t go crazy. That’s basically what the song is about.”
MacColl’s creativity came to her at an early age, influenced by her late father, Ewan MacColl, a folk revivalist, and her mother, Jean, who was a choreographer. She grew up listening to the Beatles and Frank Zappa and eventually folk music.
Her “big break” in the business came in 1981 when, while signed to Polydor, she had a Top-20 hit in England with the infamous “There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis.” That led to singer-actress Tracey Ullman discovering one of MacColl’s compositions, “They Don’t Know,” and scoring a Top-10 hit in England and America a few years later.
She also won rave notices for her version of Billy Bragg’s “A New England” and a duet with the Pogues on “Fairytale of New York,” one of the biggest U.K. Christmas records ever.
Through it all, MacColl has accepted the fact her melodic and clever lyrics don’t fit into mainstream radio formats.
“I’ve never fit in anywhere,” she says with a laugh, “but I enjoy what I do now more than ever and actually revel in being unique.”
BWF (before we forget): MacColl is married to producer Steve Lillywhite, who mixed all of the “Titanic Days” tracks. “He’s very critical and some days he’s on your back, getting you to play better,” she says, “but his opinion is very important to me.” … The title track was co-written by MacColl and Mark E. Nevin (ex-Fairground Attraction). … Her previous studio albums were “Kite” (1990, Virgin) and “Electric Landlady” (1991, Charisma). Now-defunct I.R.S. Records released “Galore,” an 18-track collection of her greatest hits, in 1995.
UPDATE (Dec. 20, 2000): On Dec. 18, the 41-year-old British singer-songwriter was struck and killed by a speedboat as she swam in an area reserved for swimmers off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico. She had been vacationing with her two sons. Her former husband, record producer Steve Lillywhite, flew to Mexico to be with their children. MacColl recently released the Latin-flavored “Tropical Brainstorm” (V2), her first album since 1993’s “Titanic Days.”
ON THE WEB: kirstymaccoll.com.