Isabel Monteiro has a story to tell you. It’s about passion and pain; rock-bottom and redemption. It’s as compelling as it is self-confessedly hubristic, and perhaps more importantly, it’s gratifyingly entertaining and moving.
If you ask the internet the right question, you’ll find that Drugstore have been, ahem, kind of a big deal in their time. They toured with Jeff Buckley, who liked them so much he took to covering their debut single Alive – go to is.gd/buckleydrugstore to hear him do so. They toured with Radiohead, whose singer liked them so much he sang a cello-laden duet with Isabel, which reached the UK Top 20 – go to is.gd/radioheaddrugstore to hear it.
Had anyone actually thought about it, Drugstore would have undoubtedly been branded Alt.country – as is the case today. Isabel’s smoky vocals and pitch-dark lyrical subject matter, coupled with her new band’s minimalist, melancholic guitar and string arrangements, stick them firmly in the lovelorn, caustic company of Low, Dusty in Memphis and Leonard Cohen.
After three albums on three labels, Drugstore went their separate ways in 2002, and in Isabel’s own words, “things spiralled down” into seven undeniably gloomy years. The singer survived, perhaps in spite of herself, on wine and hope. “Love for life kept me alive,” she says now, until September 2009, when a briefly reunited original band played a gig at Dingwalls in London, “just for fun”. It sold out. This made a lot of people – Isabel included – realise that far from being stuck in any era, Drugstore’s music nimbly hopped over the ages, from 1920s Berlin cabaret through the French chanson tradition, via The Velvet Underground’s woozy melodic charm and Tom Waits’ bar-room badinage, across PJ Harvey’s earnest intellect and The Bad Seeds’ rumbling, angry sadness.
The singer felt emboldened and, inspired by a guitar donated by a fan, work started on material for the album Anatomy. In 2010 she played a sold out show at London’s ICA.
Ever the benevolent dictator – “It was true then, it’s still true now. You’ve gotta have someone leading the boat downwards…” – Isabel held open auditions for Drugstore at legendary London bar The Troubadour, and all the while she wrote the “liberating” Anatomy blog (isabelmonteiro1.blogspot.com
) that would eventually inspire their new album’s title and lyrical content. “My blog is part of the band,” she explains. “Anatomy is about exposing yourself to the core, whether it’s pretty or ugly. I think it’s both: an analytical inspection of a state of mind."
So now we have a freshly stocked Drugstore – “new cowboys”, Isabel calls them - convening at a remote studio on Platt’s Eyot – an island on the River Thames near Richmond – there they created Anatomy’s 12 stripped-and-whipped tracks together.
“It’s painfully intimate, shamelessly simple, devastatingly sad,”says a disarmingly candid Isabel. “And right in the middle of this fucked-up seascape, the twisted heart of our littleDrugstore still beats pretty.”