Gabriella Cilmi is a 16-year-old Australian who's already made a considerable mark with her appearance on Later... with Jools and the single Sweet About Me, where she tramps all over her own 'nice girl' image. Add to this support slots with Rufus Wainwright and Nouvelle Vague and various soundtrack appearances and it seems that Island records are saying they've found yet another 'soul' diva with a voice that's experienced way beyond her tender years. Doesn't it all sound a little too familiar?
But it really seems unfair to deny the talent on display here. The writing (usually shared between Gabriella and her production team) is sound and varied enough to keep you listening. The persona projected is suitably feisty, which suits her delivery. Only her attempt at the Martha and the Muffins classic, Echo Beach (recorded as the theme tune to the tv soap, and included here as a bonus) is best glossed over. In fact that's the best way to describe it, coming as it does with a gloss so high that it ceases to exist. Or maybe it's just uptempo numbers that she can't yet deal with. Terrifying is also a little hamfisted. She's best on the sultry 'classic soul'-styled numbers like Sanctuary or Safer. The production by Xenomania (Girls Aloud, Sugababes etc) is bright and bolshy - leaving plenty of space to let the impressive voice do its stuff. Cigarettes And Lies in particular is pitched just right with its scratchy blues-driven hooks.
The trouble may be in the timing. The voice is undoubtedly phenomenal. But blindfold someone and play them this back to back with Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse, Duffy and even Anastacia and they'll start to be a little confused. As is the way with a creative arena that's also an industry, labels are unimaginative in trying to force feed us too much of something a little too formulaic. This is a shame, for you sense that somewhere inside all this is a true talent and identity longing to escape, but being generically groomed to the point of extinction. If her management and record company could leave her alone for two or three years (and a real band of her own) this teenager may well become a force to reckon with. --Chris Jones
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