On paper, Gabriella Cilmi is quite the force to be reckoned with. She’s won six ARIA Awards in her native Australia and performed on the main stage at Glastonbury. But despite this, she’s known for little more than one runaway single and several ad soundtracks. Whether second album Ten will redress the balance remains to be seen, but it certainly comes with a very clear message.
Ten largely dispels the sing-along-a-Winehouse tag that she was unfairly lumped with after her 2008 airplay behemoth Sweet About Me (which, as if to prove the point, is lumped onto the end of the special edition as a reswizzed version). Yet, it’s not a complete departure: while one might expect maturity to equate to a more sophisticated, perhaps ‘older’ sound, Cilmi’s growth isn’t as evident in her material as it is in her confidence. Ten is, for the most part, assertive, brash pop with overt disco influences, but channelled through a woman stood front-and-centre, fists clenched, ready for business.
Lead single On a Mission is the archetypal Xenomania model, all tongue-in-cheek lyrics and give-away-the-farm production. However, her greatest moments seem to come via TLC maestro Dallas Austin, whose unmatchable ear for a melody provides Cilmi with perhaps her strongest material thus far.
Brandishing a plush, experienced voice far beyond her 18 years is undoubtedly key to Cilmi’s appeal, but perhaps goes some way to explaining the difficulty in nailing her niche. There are, however, a number of tracks on Ten that succeed: the melancholic synth magnificence of Love Me Cos You Want To and the 80s pseudo-ballad Glue each manages to marry youth with musicality to great effect.
But her transformation from introverted muso to slinky pop kitten – at least on the surface – means Ten still doesn’t give too a clear indication of where to place Cilmi as an artist. And while that may infuriate chronic pigeonholers, it’s also part of Ten’s beauty – it may be a mere stepping stone to something more defined in the bigger picture, but there’s an unpredictability and a talent on display that implies she knows exactly where she’s going. --Al Fox
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Cilmi Gabriella - Ten - cod:2514