Corinne Bailey Rae's sophomore album is such a leap forward from her self-titled debut the greatest fear has to be that those who tucked into the pink marshmallow of Put Your Records On may just choke on the richer fare on offer here.
References are all to artists and albums that stand out as classics for all time: Curtis Mayfield, 'What's Going On' era Marvin Gaye, and especially Jeff Buckley, whose debut album could have been recorded at any time in the last forty years and yet still sounds contemporary. Oh, and I'm hearing a lot of The Cardigan's first album, 'Life', too... I happen to love that album, it got me over a great heartbreak.
And of course if you know anything about CBR you will know that this is a true heartbreak album. Very few pop musicians - strike that, very few PEOPLE - display the kind of unconditional love that Corinne clearly had for her husband Jason Rae. To have that person taken away from you by an early and accidental death gives one an experience so alien that there is a danger that The Sea (informed by the death of her grandfather as well as her husband) will leave the rest of us staring in at Corinne Bailey Rae from outside the bubble.
That this is not the case is truly remarkable. The music is complex, yet homespun; intelligent AND emotional; deep, yet light. It's all there on display if you want it, but it's also a beautiful piece of music. The other remarkable thing is that the album is self-written without the ubiquitous co-writers of the debut.
Joyfully, the album starts well and after a slightly languid middle section gets better and better. The final triple whammy of Paper Dolls (as disposably fun as it gets), Diving for Hearts (rock!) and The Sea (the pinnacle of Corinne's songwriting so far) leaves one emotionally wrung out in the best possible way.
Some observations: the overall sound of the album is about as far from contemporary RnB as its possible to get: this is music that emanates from a basement, not a computer. I half expected to hear the sounds of coughing and tea cups clinking. While there are 'up' songs and 'down' songs, CBR continues to be a thoughtful songwriter, so there are no easy songs; everything is open and vulnerable, which is not to everyone's taste. Lyrically this English graduate still has some way to go. An album aiming so much higher than the usual fair has its fair share of heroic failues, but this is forgiveable. 'I want you to journey with me/explore all the hidden scenes' is clearly superior in so many ways to 'lick my lollipop', but it's not Wordsworth... yet. Likewise, the melody-writing is not always up to scratch. Feels Like the First Time is largely tune-free after a stonking opening 6 secons that promises way more than the song delivers. But these are minor quibbles. This is a really good album that should stand the test of time.
My greatest hope for this record is that it will move Corinne from the world of faddish 'pop' (she came just after Nora Jones and just before Amy Winehouse) and into a place where she can build a following that will allow her to continue the journey she has begun with this album. Charting a trajectory from Corinne Bailey Rae to The Sea and beyond, we can expect the next album to be something really, really special. For now, this is just very good, a musician's album and a lovers' album. I hope her old fans trust her and that those who may have despised her poppy innocence may discover the beauty and depths of The Sea.