Despite 2015’s Shame being a powerful debut filled with pounding hits (“Tommy”) and emotive ballads (“Heaven”), it didn’t really deliver nearly as much as one would hope a debut would. Kiley Lotz, Petal’s songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist, revealed in a recent piece for Out that this would be the first album where she has songs about her sexuality. Magic Gone sees Lotz jumping over any hurdles that Shame couldn’t completely clear. The songs are fearless and well-crafted on Magic Gone. Lotz retains the charm of her first album, but she holds nothing back here.
What Petal does best is perform relatively simplistic songs incredibly well. Lotz is a talented guitarist and pianist, but she doesn’t aim for virtuosity in her performances. She shows her knowledge of music rather than exercising anything complicated beyond the point of listening. Whether it’s the power-pop of “Better Than You” or the swelling piano-based “Stardust,” Lotz’s music sets a sweet tone. Even though songs like “Tightrope” and “Better Than You” are more in line with her pop-punk peers, this feels very much like a singer-songwriter record. Songs swell, and Lotz’s voice is powerful; nonetheless, Magic Gone is a record that feels like home. It has the familiarity of walking into your college or hometown bar at a time you’d never gone when you lived there. You recognize it, and it’s comfortable, but it doesn’t feel quite right. This isn’t a negative feeling by any stretch. In fact, it’s one of the most at ease, and the nature of Lotz’s soft voice, occasionally building into a powerful belt, captures the idea of being with a tight-knit group in an empty bar.
Where Shame felt like an emotionally even record, there is a lot of pain on Magic Gone. There’s self-realization and power, but it also shows all the glass you have to walk across to get there. Take the chorus of “Tightrope:” Lotz sings, “The truth is just a piece of coal/dressed in gold.” It’s an honest depiction of putting on a brave face when it feels like all else is collapsing. The rousing “Better Than You” is an anthem for anyone who’s ever gone through a period of self-doubt thinking, “Everyone hates me.” Songs like “Shy” and “Carve” directly address Lotz’s coming out around the time of writing Magic Gone, and they discuss the worry and eventual comfort in her sexuality.
So much of the rest of the album sees Lotz discussing the complicated nature of her relationships after coming out. “Comfort” and “Something From Me” feel like their lifted off of Rumours with all the pain and fury that’s ingrained in each track. A song like “Shy” addresses the lonesome self-doubt one can still feel despite being in a loving relationship. The closing song “Stardust” is a fitting summation of the album. It moves from a haunting piano-ballad to a full fledged indie anthem. It’s a song about how some relationships can be perfect and still end. Lotz is resigned to wonder “Maybe we’d make good parents/I can’t say….I can’t say/I didn’t love you.” Sometimes things end, and we still know that we loved that person no matter how it ended. Then you’re just left to wonder if it could’ve worked, but that’s what Petal is about: Lotz will leave you wondering where all the wonder’s gone.