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Sharon Van Etten - We've Been Going About This All Wrong (Album Review)

Tuesday, 10 May 2022 Written by Graeme Marsh

Photo: Michael Schmelling

Life-changing events can bring both joy and trauma in equal measures. Sharon Van Etten’s music has long investigated emotional extremes and her wonderful sixth album ‘We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong’ is driven by changes in circumstance and simmering hurt.

Relocation—from New York to Los Angeles—marriage and pandemic-era motherhood are all on the agenda, and are all situations that bring their own problems as well as benefits. Van Etten has been through the lot since 2019’s ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’ and wrote these songs out west, isolated from her roots, at the home studio her move allowed her to assemble. It’s complicated.

There was an inkling that something very special was around the corner when Like I Used To, Van Etten’s brilliant duet with Angel Olsen, came out last year, but perhaps the single did little to suggest what followed would be as despondent and sorrowful.

The fact that there were no tasters on offer before the release of ‘We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong’ has added to the intrigue and sense of expectation—Van Etten wanted the album to be experienced as a whole, from start to finish, with nothing to disrupt the flow.

The album is at times a reflection of her new life, with her declaring to her young son on the excellent Home To Me that “you’re on my mind” and “I need my job, please don’t hold that against me”. Its hope is that he will in future years understand why his mother wasn’t always around for him—simple yet stunning. Opener Darkness Fades also hints at such feelings on a cut that aches sadness but blossoms from a seed into a beautiful flower: “It’s been a while since I held you close.”

At this point, two such epics exceed what you would have realistically hoped for, suggesting that things will taper off. The truth is, they don’t. Van Etten keeps coming at you relentlessly: the glistening synths of I’ll Try lift the mood, sonically at least, and Anything grows into another gem with spine-tingling chords. Her vocals get right down low for Born, reflecting a mood you would think, and at that point you’re nodding, convinced things are about to falter. But two minutes in, the track strides forward into another cinematic treat.

And so it continues through the fuzzy, ‘80 synth-drenched Headspace, and then Come Back with its Radiohead lilt, before finally grinding to a halt on the funereal Darkish. At this point, the gloom may get too much for some but we quickly return to a more optimistic place on Mistakes and then the closer Far Away, which showcases Van Etten’s staggering vocal prowess one final time.

‘We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong’ is one of those rare albums that initially feels too good to be true. This is truly next level stuff from an artist capable of becoming a Joni Mitchell for a new generation: a legendary singer-songwriter who can drop jaws with the first few notes. Magnificent stuff.

Sharon Van Etten Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri June 17 2022 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Sat June 18 2022 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Sun June 19 2022 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Tue June 21 2022 - GLASGOW Barrowland Ballroom
Wed June 22 2022 - DUBLIN Vicar Street

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