Kirsty MacColl found her bliss with this hybrid of Latin rhythms with ambient trance for this sophisticated sardonic seduction. MacColl had shown her musical prowess with a series of diverse albums such as 'Desperate Character' on Polydor Records, 'Kite' and 'Electric Landlady' on Virgin Records, and 'Titanic Days' on IRS Records. Her marriage to producer Steve Lillywhite helped her find session work on a number of different records when she was without a label; but, when her marriage failed she took the opportunity to travel the world and learn about different styles of music.
MacColl would relate: “I was very unhappy when I did ‘Titanic Days“. I think it was a good record but you have to be reasonably strong to listen to it. I made a conscious decision after it not to do another album until I was feeling more happy about life. I did it (travelling) really for the experience, thinking, if we can’t use any of it when we get back then so be it, but I would at least have had a go ... I used to worry about writer’s block — after every album basically! But I think this time it was God’s way of saying, ‘You’ve got nothing to write about so SHUT UP!’ If only more people could hear that, instead of this kind of musical diarrhoea you get with a lot of bands. I think its quite healthy to have a little break. And I didn’t want to just rush out and make another melancholy record after we’d split up and just be that woman who does those sad songs. That would have been really grim. I started to do some of the things I’d wanted to do since forever ... My first visit to Cuba was in 92, though I’d already recorded with some Latin musicians in New York before that. After visiting Havana a few times I started travelling all over the country, getting increasingly immersed in the music. I went to Rio and Salvador and then a friend set me up in a studio in Recife. I wanted to do an acoustic thing – just a guitar and a couple of percussionists – but when I got there I realised that the guitarist wanted to be in Dire Straits. They’re very into rock in Brazil and I had to spend a lot of time bullying them into being more Brazilian. I was travelling alone for two or three weeks at a time, picking up the language as best I could, and just soaking up a whole new culture. There was so much to take in. The mambo is one particular rhythm that comes from Cuba but cha-cha, salsa and son all originate from there. For an island that small it’s produced an amazingly important amount of music.”
'Tropical Brainstorm' was produced by Kirsty MacColl with Pete Glenister and Dave Ruffy with some basic tracks recorded in Brazil; but most of the work done at Glenister's studio in Bermondsey and MacColl's home studio in Ealing. The sessions featured Kirsty MacColl on vocals, autoharp, and lap steel guitar; Roy Dodds and Bosco DeOliveira on percussion; Pete Glenister on guitar and programming; Chucho Merchan on bass and double bass; Dave Ruffy on drums and programming; Joseph de Jesus on trombone; Ernesto Estruch on piano, violin, and background vocals; Felix Gonzalez on background vocals and Cuban rap; Omar Püente on violin and background vocals; James Knight on saxophone; Ben Storey on trumpet; Lee Groves on additional programming; Mark Hinton Stewart on keyboards; Luiz de Almeida on surdo and nylon string guitar.
MacColl would reveal: “I didn’t want to make a straight Latin album or even a record that sounded like David Byrne, much as I love what he does. Cuban and Brazilian music is very structured and disciplined and I didn’t want to have to follow any rules,“ she says. “So yes, it’s a hybrid. I wanted to make a record that would appeal to existing fans of my songwriting. I didn’t want to turn off people who’ve been with me for years by singing in Spanish or something. But maybe it can introduce some of them to this music and also attract a new audience that hasn’t necessarily been into my kind of songwriting before ... There was no way it was ever going to be an authentic record, because I’m not Brazilian and I’m not Cuban. It wasn’t going to be purist because I wanted to use elements of music from different countries — Brazil, Colombia and Cuba — and not be limited by the rules. The fact is, I deliberately recorded the album with two people who I’ve worked with a lot before and who have no history whatsoever of playing Latin music. If you don’t know what the rules are, then you don’t have to stick to them which is very liberating. If it sounded good we could do it ... There were 15 of us and you worked with two different people each day. During the course of that day you had to write a song and then perform it to everybody else in the evening. I was terrified because I’d had writer’s block for three years. But on the third day I wrote ‘Designer Life’ with Kenneth Crouch which ended up on the record. I also met Graham Gouldman down there and later we wrote ‘Treachery’ together for the album...Vitriol and misery have always been far easier to express in song, but a lot of people also think that humour implies you’re not serious about the music. Which is stupid. I don’t see the connection between being deadly serious and being good. There’s a lot of serious crap around and there’s a lot of people who want to be celebrities and take themselves far too seriously.”
'Tropical Brainstorm' reached number thirty-nine on the UK albums chart. It would be her last album as she was killed in a boating accident in Cozumel, Mexico on December 18, 2000. Her family is still seeking closure on the incident.
"In These Shoes?"
"Mambo De La Luna"
"England 2 Colombia 0"
"Mambo De La Luna" (Kirsty MacColl, Pete Glenister, Dave Ruffy) - 4:38
"In These Shoes?" (MacColl, Glenister) - 3:39
"Treachery" (MacColl, Graham Gouldman) - 3:51
"Here Comes That Man Again" (MacColl, Glenister) - 4:49
"Autumngirlsoup" (MacColl) - 3:54
"Celestine" (MacColl) - 3:35
"England 2 Colombia 0" (MacColl) - 3:45
"Não Esperando" (MacColl, Glenister) - 4:04
"Alegria" (MacColl, Ruffy) - 2:01
"Us Amazonians" (MacColl, Glenister) - 4:09
"Wrong Again" (MacColl) - 4:16
"Designer Life" (MacColl, Crouch) - 2:35
"Head" (MacColl) - 3:56
"Golden Heart" (MacColl, N. MacColl) - 3:24
"Things Happen" (MacColl, Gouldman) - 2:58
"Good For Me" (MacColl, James Knight) - 4:10
Interview with Jools Holland
Who Killed Kirsty MacColl? (Full documentary)