As we approach the end of 2021, I have a pretty good idea of what my top ten albums of the year will be, for my now traditional What I’ve Been Listening To post. And one of them is an album I want to write much more about than will reasonably fit into one of the brief entries in that post. Hence today’s post:
The eagle-eyed among you will spot that this album is by my wife Fiona. That has everything to do with why I know about it at all, but absolutely nothing to do with why I love it so deeply.
It’s a concept album — if you like, the cast recording from an imaginary musical — about a mother whose only daughter is leaving home to go to university. Every song is from the point of view of the mother: first caught up in the excitement of her daughter’s adventure, then looking back over the years that led to this point, beginning with the longing for a child, the joy of conception, the spinning of plates required to get a school-kid through a day, the nagging fear of not having done a good enough job, the difficulty of letting go, and so on.
So it’s a unique insight into an experience of life that in one sense is alien to me, but in another is very very familiar — I see it from the father’s perspective rather than the mother’s. We have much in common, but also real differences. One of the benefits of hearing this album is actually understanding my wife better, which after 28 years is pretty amazing. Another is that it’s helped me to understand my own complex mix of emotions better, as our youngest son has recently left for Lincoln University.
And boy, is it complex. There is of course a simple surface-level sadness at losing the sons we’ve been bringing up together for 24 years. But with that comes a strong sense of triumph at a job well done (if I do say so myself). There is also a hint of Could We Have Done More?, and inevitably some degree of worry about the situations they find themselves in; along with a conviction that they are all the kind of people to make good decisions. And the undertone that goes with all this is the sense that on some level all change entails loss. It’s not that I want to go back to when they were 12, 10 and seven: I love and like them more now than I did then. But at the same time, there is no denying that the specific people they were back then are now irrevocably lost, existing now only in photos, video clips and memories. I am greedy. I want them as they were then and as they are now.
And the thing is — somehow Empty Nest captures all that complexity of thought and emotion, and more. It’s only possible because of Fiona’s unique combination of skills and experiences: her years mothering three children, of course, but also her years as a top-level performing muscian, and then as a therapist, and now as a composer. Her skills as an instrumentalist, as an arranger, as an audio technician and as a deeply empathetic songwriter. Honestly, I don’t believe anyone else in the world could have created this album.
To me, it stands alongside Joni Mitchell’s Hejira as one of the great albums about what it is to be a woman — but Empty Nest shows a very different experience of womanhood, arguably a more mature and complete experience. Honestly, I think it’s that good.
Anyway! The album is officially launched today, and you are very welcome to virtually attend the launch event at 3:30pm GMT (10:30am Eastern time) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4DyvaSYuKM — running for one hour. Some of the songs from the album will be played, Fiona and Nataley (the singer) will talk about how they made it, and I’ll say a few words myself.
There is much much more about the album on the Empty Nest website.
And you can (and should!) buy the album on BandCamp.