Gracie Abrams spends the first three minutes of her debut album, ‘Good Riddance’, apologising. “I was so negligent / I feel terrible about how I handled it”, she sings on album opener, ‘Best’.
It’s a complicated apology – regretful and unfeigned, tinged with culpability and self-hatred. “I destroyed every silver lining you had in your head / All of your feelings, I played with them”, she admits.
Starting off ‘Good Riddance’ with an apology sets the tone for the rest of the record, which takes the candour and precision of Abrams’ writing to new heights. As she showed on EPs ‘21’ and ‘This Is What It Feels Like’, Abrams has always been vulnerable in her songwriting. But on ‘Good Riddance’ she is just that much more unbridled. “Won’t you stop holding out for me when I don’t want it?”, she sings on album standout ‘I Know It Won’t Work’ about breaking off a relationship with a partner who won’t go easily. She takes it further. “Why won’t you try moving on for once? That might make it easy / You know we cut all the ties but you’re never really leaving”. These words are strong, perhaps even harsh. But as Abrams wrote in her album announcement, she was reminded by The National’s Aaron Dessner, her sole collaborator on the album, that “holding space for brutal honesty in songwriting is kind of the whole point.”
What results is a thorough and focused project with great emotional and creative depth, a thoughtful and revelatory exploration of the relationships by which we define our lives and what happens to them when we change. Abrams’ foray into these difficult themes is complimented beautifully by the cool, moody textures of Dessner’s production, as exemplified on ‘Full Machine’. The track began life as an old Instagram video of Abrams murmuring over an acoustic guitar, and it’s here on the final album version that we see the transformative power of the Dessner touch, the way his rich but understated electronic palette perfectly uplifts Abrams’ scratchy, whispered vocals. “I’m a rollercoaster / You’re a dead-end street”, Abrams murmurs, leading into the metaphor, “I’m a shameless caller / You’re a full machine”.
‘Good Riddance’ is a refreshing turn for Abrams, whose penchant for melancholic vignettes in preceding projects almost hinted at becoming one-dimensional. With her songwriting ramped up to a new gear of exacting clarity and enveloped in Dessner’s gentle but comprehensive direction, the album is cohesive, intriguing, and gratifying. It’s Gracie Abrams’ best work so far.