Turning 10: Amanda Leigh

“I was proud of the work I was doing back then, but I was really just a kid. I’m going to continue to grow, and my musical tastes will change and hopefully I’ll only get better and better and work harder and harder and study more. I’m not desperately seeking out credibility as an artist. I just love music. This is what I’m most passionate about.”

Maturing and musical control had been a concept Mandy Moore had been constantly discussing since the release of her third (fourth if you could I Wanna Be With You) album, Coverage. She had felt stifled by the control of a major record label and used her subsequently release from Epic as a chance to become the artist she truly wanted the world to see she was.

Frankly, as a fan of her pop efforts, it was interesting to see that Mandy’s voice was much more than the breathy pop confection we heard on record during her Epic years. Though she didn’t amass the commercial success of Britney, Christina and Jessica, Mandy stayed relevant by proving to be a talented actress and releasing music along that journey.

After being released from Epic, Mandy went independent and released Wild Hope which personally I consider the original Golden Hour (not Kacey shade). Wild Hope was a testament of the artistry Mandy can deliver. The songs were wistful and poignant. Wild Hope was blissfully aware of womanhood and emotion. Interestingly enough, Mandy still considered Wild Hope to be influenced by the “big label”. So after two years, Mandy released Amanda Leigh, and album that truly shows an artist partnering with a sonic companion, Mike Viola, who Mandy had previously worked with while creating Wild Hope.

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Amanda Leigh was a stripped version of Wild Hope. Instead of being in a state-of-the-art studio for six weeks, the setting in which Wild Hope was created, Amanda Leigh found its creation in a more natural setting.

“This was the more acoustic form of that, I guess. This was ideal and, like, the ultimate learning experience for me. I felt like I was the kid sister and the assistant in terms of learning about the production and engineering side of things, just being present for absolutely everything. That’s a lot different from being 14 and 15 years old and just being brought into the studio song by song with a different songwriting team or production team.”

After being recorded in Boston throughout December of 2008, Amanda Leigh came to light in May of 2009. The first single, I Could Break Your Heart Any Day of the Week, was released in March of 2009. Reception was positive, and critics felt that it “[was] a feel-good pop song with restrained production, refreshingly showcasing the melody and Moore’s alluring vocals”.

Though she promoted the song heavily on the talk show circuit, the song didn’t chart. Frankly, it wasn’t surprising, but as a fan it was disappointing. The song was and remains a great pop song. I still don’t understand the disconnect between good music and the general audience.

ICBYHADOTW isn’t the only gem on the album though. Frankly, Amanda Leigh is packed with gems that range from whimsical Americana to mature pop moments that continue to show a maturity and understanding of relationships, life and the like. Merimack River opens the album with the line “restless to begin, a wave comes crashing in”, the perfect line and song to set the tone of the album.

The album stays within a very acoustic vein throughout its length; however, the lack of synths and usual pop productions doesn’t mean that the album is without urgent and expansive energy. Fern Dell is full of anxious and impulsive energy. Pocket Philosopher is quirky and dreamy, just like the person she’s describing in the song.

A true peak for me is the romantic Love to Love Me Back. “I want love to love me back, I want two-way conversations” is one of my favorite lyrics on the album. From the moment the song begins, the lush production, the strings and sweeping guitar, it all makes sense. It’s a true marriage of production and message.

Amanda Leigh features many pensive moments: Indian Summer, Everblue, Songs About Home, Nothing Everything. Each are good songs, but frankly, the only criticism I have regarding this album is the way these pensive and heavier moments cause a jarring movement of emotion within the more ethereal and upbeat moments. The album ends with Bug, which is an acoustic ode to her then-husband, Ryan Adams.

Amanda Leigh does not live on any streaming service. It’s not even for sale on iTunes. I truly wonder if it has anything to do with what happened within the past year. Mandy and Ryan divorced years ago. Earlier this year, Ryan was brought to task as a sexual predator, another man who uses his power to coerce women and abuse them.

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Mandy herself states that Ryan would demean her music and belittled her talent. Billboard released a well-written piece regarding her musical career in the terms of the allegations. Ryan allegedly discouraged her from working with other producers or managers, which could explain why she hasn’t released any new music since Amanda Leigh, which was released in 2009. Ryan and Mandy married in 2009, creating a union that was essentially emotionally hollow, and full of false-starts when it came to her music.

“I’m not looking to be a pop star. I want to go on tour with a band, and I want the music to reflect that.”

Amanda Leigh didn’t sell much, however, I don’t think Mandy was after sales. Based on what she’s said herself, I don’t think Mandy is after commercial success. She wants to love music and revel in what she produces. Mandy has shown us her potentials. She succeeded as a pop star, and successfully transitioned away from the pop narrative. Wild Hope and Amanda Leigh are results of that narrative.

10 years later Amanda Leigh still remains and engaging listen; a listen that has recently become more complex due to the allegations brought to light this year. I’m glad I have a physical copy of this album, as that form has provided me the opportunity to listen to it even though it’s not available on streaming platforms. I hope Mandy is still proud of this album, because I’m still proud of her.

 

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