In the second half of 2019 Queenslander Hayley Marsten released Spectacular Heartbreak, a debut album that had a pedigree of singles and the EPs Even and Lonestar behind it. Marsten had done her apprenticeship with those early releases – although they were firmly not the works of a beginner – and Spectacular Heartbreak was a fully realised work that was meaningful and entertaining both lyrically and melodically. It was justifiably nominated for Alt Album of the Year at the 2020 Golden Guitars.
Marsten has now released a four-track EP that contains four songs from that album, presented in a very different way: with only a piano as accompaniment, played by Kieran Stevenson and produced by Dan Sugars. The songs chosen – the album’s title track, ‘Call It a Day’, ‘Red Wine, White Dress’ and ‘Grocery Line’ – are from the ‘heartbreak’ part of an album that also included plenty of spectacular sass. Marsten chose these songs because she is now on the other side of the heartbreak that inspired them.
‘Saying goodbye and letting go of things I feel so sentimental about has never been easy for me and this record was no exception,’ she says. ‘It was such a personal album about experiences that left me feeling so fragile and the fact that so many people have let it into their hearts and their lives has me feeling much the same.’
Indeed, there is vulnerability on these recordings, partly because Marsten sounds reflective and, in some cases, resigned, but in a good way: the emotional work she did to bring these songs to life is now done. You can hear goodbye in her voice but also hear that there’s no regret in it. This is nowhere more clear than on ‘Spectacular Heartbreak’, which in its original version is quite feisty, with Marsten’s emotions still fairly raw. On this new version, when Marsten sings ‘I’m not worth forgetting’ she has the tone of someone who’s actually forgotten about the subject of the song and almost can’t believe that she was worried about him forgetting her. Because by now she knows that she made an unforgettable album.
And that’s why she can go back: Spectacular Heartbreak was so good that it is worth revisiting, just in case anyone would wonder why Marsten would return to it. A big part of the reason why it’s worth a different interpretation is that Marsten has such a great voice, and when it’s presented in this way we can hear that clearly when there’s only one other instrument on the recording with her.
This is an EP for fans, for sure, but if these four songs are your first introduction to Marsten you will want to seek out everything else that she has available. These songs are rich with stories, with ideas, with Marsten’s inner life – and with risk. Being this open with her audience carried risk. It paid off, and now Marsten is repaying the trust her audience showed by offering this gift of an EP.