Amy Diamond

Still Me Still Now

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Amy Diamond's second album, released almost exactly a year after her first, delivers amply on the somewhat eccentric promise of her debut. As the title suggests, the basic operating premises haven't changed much from This Is Me Now to Still Me Still Now: there are still ten tracks of infectious, sunshine-bright pop for kids of all ages; still kaleidoscopic, meticulously shiny productions that marry an all-embracing orchestral sweep to judiciously deployed synths and electronics; still the precocious, bright-eyed young girl (now 13 going on 14) with the uncannily big voice and penchant for theatricality. That said, this album is an improvement on its predecessor in almost every respect. First and foremost, the songwriting is uniformly strong -- there's not a duff track here, even if there may not be a stand-alone pop nugget to rival the unstoppable "What's in It for Me." "Don't Cry Your Heart Out" comes close -- in fact, it verges on stylistic and thematic facsimile, which is to say it's another bouncy pop-reggae tune wherein a good-for-nothing cad receives his lyrical upbraiding, though in this case the woman he's been kicking around isn't Amy but an off-stage third party ("Who are you to shame and mistreat her/'Cause she's not a man, but you are not one either"). Which is more tenable than Diamond herself having the jerk boyfriend (she could be singing to a deadbeat stepdad, for instance), even if the worldly-wise perspective she adopts still seems like a stretch for a 14-year-old. But that's just part and parcel of the mess of incongruities that make her such a fascinating and slightly surreal figure: trying to construct a realistic picture of our heroine through these songs is a losing battle, and beside the point.

Indeed, apart from pair of typically buoyant tunes that find her brushing blissfully free of troubled relationships (the brassy Dixieland swagger of "Don't Lose Any Sleep Over You" and the more charitable "No Regrets"), the album is almost entirely devoid of first-person perspective. Many of Diamond's vocal performances are remarkably genuine and personally affecting, but the staginess that marked her debut is far from absent; indeed, it's emphasized by the distinctly Broadway cast of many of the songs and arrangements -- most notably the outrageously campy cabaret number "Diamonds." The honky tonk shuffle "My Name Is Love" casts her as Love Personified, recruiting "a few good men and women for the team"; "Big Guns" -- a paramilitary strut complete with barroom piano, tongue clicks, and what sounds like a calliope -- positions her as a ringleader for the youth ("heads high, my young allies") in a battle against, apparently, the grown-ups who'd seek to placate them with "a cookie and some television." But her default role here is as a sort of general-purpose life counselor/consoler -- part guardian angel, part personal cheerleader -- dispensing sage advice with a smile and a vague sense of detachment: "That's Life," "Life's What You Make It," "It Can Only Get Better," "All the Money in the World" ("...couldn't change what I feel about you..."). Clichés all, of course, but they're clichéd for a reason, and it's improbably poignant and heartwarming to hear them rendered with unwavering sincerity and pathos by somebody who couldn't possibly have the life experience to back them up.

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