The music industry has been granted a breath of fresh air with the burgeoning success of Hampshire born twins, Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas. It is hard to classify the discography of Ward Thomas into one universally suitable genre. Their older records have undeniable country influences – their last album ‘Cartwheels’ is characterised by mellifluous harmonies set against the twang of a guitar and earthy instrumentation.
But their latest album, ‘Restless Minds’ which was released on Friday 8th February 2019, is in a sonic realm of its own. Experimental yet coherent, the record documents a coming of age in the digital age. Through carefully crafted lyricism, we are presented with an exploration of deep themes such as the impact of social media on mental health, the #MeToo movement and the ebb and flow of relationships in the modern era. By transcending traditional boundaries, both lyrically and instrumentally, Ward Thomas are evolving their sound in a musical awakening – and I for one am all for it.
I will now give a short review of some of the stand out singles in the album:
1. Lie Like Me
This was the first song I heard from the album, and I stumbled upon it completely by chance thanks to Spotify’s music recommending algorithms. The instrumentation has an immediately compelling hook to it – the thumping syncopated drums contrasted with the staccato electric guitar make it almost impossible not to nod your head along. The accompanying lyrics add an extra dimension to the seemingly conventional pop crossover production. From the opening line “It looks like Heaven / it feels like Hell” we are immediately faced with the juxtaposition of real life and the shimmery reflections of reality we see on our phone screens. “I want you to lie, like me” is repeated throughout the chorus, and the word ‘lie’ was left ringing in my ears as I scrolled through post after post of ostensibly perfect posts on Instagram. So many sunsets, brunches and selfies that are obscured by filters – it is no surprise that artifice can be the deep rooted cause of so much anxiety. It seems that Ward Thomas have hit the nail on the head with this one.
2. Never Know
This track draws you in with its strong percussion and chant-like vocalisation, with the harmonies being on point as always. Shying away slightly from their country roots, this track has more of an indie pop characterisation. The song takes on another layer once you delve past the instrumentals and pay attention to the lyrics. “If you wanted I’d have been that someone / But you didn’t so I’m not your number one” – Ward Thomas have stated that this song is:
“For anyone who has been rejected in a friendship, relationship or in work. But out of that rejection comes empowerment and a sense of freedom and release which gives you the courage to do what you believe in and be yourself.” (Source: thankfolkforthat.com).
This sense of empowerment and liberation is a running motif throughout the album, and adds another dimension to the listening experience. Not only is the music toe-tappingly catchy, but the meaning behind the words and the messages portrayed are likely to stick with you through real life hardships.
3. No Fooling Me
Restless Minds lurches seamlessly from country inspired pop tracks into more stripped back, piano driven ballads. ‘No Fooling Me’ belongs to the latter category, This song speaks once more of betrayal, of a relationship turned sour – but the overarching theme is once again a jubilant defiance and refusal to be kicked down. “You can take me anywhere you like but can’t you see / That there ain’t no way in hell you’re fooling me?” You mustn’t be fooled by the delicate, dreamy background acoustics – Ward Thomas are proving their strength throughout this entire album, in more ways than one.
Overall, Ward Thomas have produced a universally appealing record that will delight music fans from all genres and backgrounds. The album was written alongside co-writers such as Rachel Furner, Jessica Sharman and Rebekah Powell, and Ward Thomas have discussed the co-writing process, “we left all our egos at the door and expressed exactly what was on our minds“. To me, Ward Thomas manage to perfectly encapsulate this sense of freedom of expression throughout their music. Throwing around themes such as feminism, social media, overdependence on online validation and toxic relationships, this album will feel like a personal diary to many millenials. Yet Ward Thomas’ emotive sensitivity and overwhelming positivity manages to empower and lift others up, which is just what music is made to do.
Photo: Ward Thomas after their performance at HMV Liverpool, as part of their Restless Minds roadtrip 2019.