on 31 October 2008
I really liked Katie's first two albums but delayed buying this one for over 6 months because of all the poor reviews.
And, having finally decided "what the heck,I'll see for myself", I was disappointed when I first played it through - despite having low expectations because of the reviews. Then I played it again and it wasn't quite so bad. And then I played it a lot in the car (& had the other albums there for comparison). And it grew and grew and grew on me. And now it is probably my favourite album of hers. My favourite tracks have varied over time, and I probably still feel that the middle is a little weaker. Certainly, some of the lyrics are rather naff (and even irritating) - but 'twas ever so, and also true of other artists. What it doesn't have is anything with the very immediate catchiness of '9m bicycles' or 'Closest Thing to Crazy', but as a whole CD it is no worse for that.
"Pictures" is Katie Melua's third collaboration with songwriter and producer Mike Batt. Some professional critics have pointed to the banality of some of his lyrics: "Douglas Fairbanks, he was so handsome/He wore a moustache/Must-a-had much cash too." But they miss the point. The quirky lyrics are so much part of the charm of this album.
From the playful and punny "Mary Pickford Used To Eat Roses" (about her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks), to the exquisite Batt penned "If You Were A Sailboat" to "In My Secret Life" by the Master of Doom, Leonard Cohen,the twelve hook laden songs explore the themes of love and love and loss with Katie's growing sense of maturity quite evident.
The arrangements include reggae and brass (Ghost Town) and Mexican trumpets (Dirty Dice)which add variety and spice to the string laden arrangements of the other selections. "Scary Movies" continues the playful mood with the immortal couplet "And the vampire's just a joke/'cause I know he's just a bloke". Come on professional critics, loosen up!
But ultimately it's Katie's voice, variously vulnerable, wistful, smoky, joyful and mournful, as in "What I Miss About You" that makes this album work. Although only 23, Katie Melua makes music for adults. If you liked her first two albums, you'll love this.
on 5 January 2008
It's not her best, and she's gone a different route to Norah Jones (ok, not the same style, but in the same vein of music) and stuck to a tried-and-tested format for her songs and lyrics. Maybe it's wearing off some listeners. But it's quite charming, and I can't get over how beautiful she and her voice is. The lyrics are slacking a bit, but I'd rather see and hear her actually make music herself and maybe fail a little, than the plastic pop tarts bumming around the charts these days (the ones who have everything done for them). There's nothing really wrong with 'Pictures', it's just that we've really seen it twice before on her previous albums. Maybe she should try something different next album, but there are some good songs with subtle hooks here. In the meantime, I like her music!
on 2 October 2007
If you expected this album to build on the two previous albums and to be a showcase of catchy lyrics given the classic Melua treatment, you may be slightly disappointed.
This Katie Melua album does not quite do what it says on the tin. Nevertheless, a Katie Melua album it still is, and a worthy addition to any Melua collection.
Melua is a rare artist who has given us songs that are not just sung, but emoted: songs sold on a mix of naivety, innocence, loss or hope, that give her interpretation an integrity that is lacking in other contemporary performers.
But here, there is no haunting wails of pain that made the Melua penned Piece by Piece title track such a vocal masterpiece. There is none of the vulnerability as performed in Mike Batt's Closest Thing to Crazy and nothing as pure as Thank You Stars.
This is not an album that has the sentimentality of the previous albums that had the ability to make grown men cry. Yes, all artists must evolve, but let's not forget that emotional connection in Crazy that is the essense of what made Melua a star. Why leave that magic behind?
Standout tracks obviously include the hit single If You Were a Sailboat, with jarring lyrics such as: "If you were a piece of wood, I`d nail you to the floor." It is worth seeing the video (not included on the album) to watch out for the appearance of an animated owl providing an unexpected comic effect.
It does get better than that, but apart from the georgous vocals of What I Miss about You there is little evidence that Melua has stretched herself vocally to ever surprise her audience as she has done before, but that is not to say that her performance on this album is poor. Far from it, her voice has matured and is more assured.
Spellbound, the only song entirely written by Melua is one of the most promising, along with It's All in My Head: well structured songs that may get stuck in your head.
If the Lights go Out is probably the most mainstream and commercial sounding upbeat pop song Melua has recorded, even though it talks about the end of the world! It is still a love song; she'll go down with you if the lights go out, but its real charm is that her voice has never been as cute.
Mary Pickford is a tribute to the actors who formed United Artists, a very pleasing Batt composition that really works, but for the spoken asides to squeeze in extra rhymes that spoil Melua`s silky vocals.
What it Says on the Tin is a slow song that has the soft jazzy feel of the Call Off The Search title track.
Moving further away from the roots of her previous work, some other tracks may feel like B sides that do not do Melua`s voice justice, often with irritating percussion and failing to ever take off, hanging around in the lower registers for too long. Dirty Dice is given a Latin arrangement, Ghost Town, a Reggae vibe, perhaps to add interest to the blandness. The moving thing about Scary Films is likely to be the skip button.
Melua's past success has been achieved without the backing of a major label. Her fan base has derived from the allure of her unique emotionally charged voice and a slightly quirky anaemic jazz and blues that is not available elsewhere. But her voice is the hook and with the right material she could sell millions without a single note of backing music.
Unfortunately, however deeply her audience may have fallen in love with her voice, that does not compensate for some of the weaker material and it is hard to imagine how this album can repeat the success of the first two albums. If this had been the first album, it seems unlikely Katie Melua would now be a household name.
Pictures often sounds like a waste of one of the most sensational artists of the century. Melua`s voice is not fully exploited and does not have the chance to make the same emotional connection as it has before. This feels like an album designed to be more vocally safe than adventurous. But not everyone wants or expects to be blown away with a new album. My own expectations were perhaps too high, based on what has come before.
Even so, I must recommend Pictures, because there is a varied mix of tracks here and despite its flaws, if you enjoyed Call Off the Search or Piece by Piece, there will likely be something here you will appreciate.
Here is a collection of smooth soothing music to escape from the busy world. Here is the ideal antidote to scantily clad manufactured pop and coke-head divas.
Pour yourself a drink and chill out to Mellow Melua and let all your troubles melt away. That part of the magic is still there. You will not find another album released this year like this one.
This is still Katie Melua. Five Stars.
on 10 October 2013
This album has in my opinion had some unjust bashing by the critics. This is often the case with things though, sometimes they just don't get it. Some things are just wonderfully off beat. "Mary Pickford", case in point. The fact that some of the lyrics here reference things that really happened coupled with a wonderful sense of fun and positive energy. Educational and entertaining, for those that may choose to check it out. "Dirty Dice", "What I Miss About You", "What it Says On the Tin", "If Were a Sailboat". Are all standout tracks, but that's not to say that the others on offer here don't merit your consideration. They all do; these are just some of this reviewers favourites. Well worth the purchase price.
All the people who have reviewed this without even hearing it are idiots. Full stop.
How can you possibly review something you've not heard? You're either giving it a good or bad mark depending on whether you like Katie or not. This is the height of stupidity.
I have actually heard the whole album. Rest assured, Katie fans, it's good. You'll like it.
But more importantly, real music fans should really appreciate this album. It's got much more to it than stock pop appeal. To my ears it's got real musical longevity. The kind of album that will be returned to in several years time.
There's still too much Mike Batt input, but on the whole Katie and band are doing some very different things on this record. Things you've not heard from her before, but without losing the elements which make it a Katie Melua album.
This is easily her finest work to date, even if some of the subject matter is ropey, and Batt is still a useless lyricist.
on 21 November 2007
I am a huge fan of the jazz-influenced female adult-pop artists that have emerged in the past five years or so, and really wanted to love this album. I have to admit, though, that I have been somewhat disappointed in it. (I would tend to give it three and half stars, but since there are no "half stars" allowed here, I will round my rating up to four.)
My first exposure to this particular musical genre dates to 2002, when I first heard Norah Jones' debut album - and was completely blown away by it. The following year I came across Melissa Errico's "Blue Like That" CD, which I found myself enjoying just as much. Then in 2004, I chanced to hear Katie's first CD when it was first released in the US, and was immediately taken by her gorgeous voice and beguiling accent. I of course, bought Katie's second album as soon as I could, and liked it as much as the first - if not even more. Unfortunately, the dreaded "sophomore jinx" seems to have hit Katie on her third try. Or perhaps one could say that the third time has turned out *not* to be the charm, in this case.
There are several songs that I really do enjoy on this new disc, though. Reviewing a Carpenters' album, Rolling Stone magazine once observed that "nobody could take the ickiest love song and fill it up and out like Karen". With no intention of comparing the two, I would tend to say the same exact thing regarding Katie. So, I do very much appreciate the two ballads, "If You Were A Sailboat" (the first single) and "What It Says On the Tin". In addition, "What It Says On the Tin" features a strikingly beautiful jazz-guitar solo.
I also like "Ghost Town", with its quasi-reggae beat and tastefully restrained use of brass instruments. But perhaps my favorite track on the album is "Perfect Circle". The Brazilian samba (or bossa-nova) rhythm of "Perfect Circle" recalls some of Dusty Springfield's 60s recordings, and Katie sings it very much the way that Dusty would have, too.
As for the rest of the material on the new CD, I would honestly have to say that it just doesn't grab me the way these four songs do. But I'm sure that Katie can do better than this, and I'm hopeful that the next album will mark a welcome return to form - and will live up to the standard of her first two.
on 10 October 2008
Monty Python released an album with this title in the early 80s and this is what this album from Katie feels like. The songs are pleasant and pass an enjoyable 45 minutes but there are no standout tracks as there were on the excellent first two albums. The highlights are 'If I were a sailboat' and 'Ghost Town', both of which received much radio play. 'What it says on the tin' just grates on me as it's one of those annoying 'in' sayings that no-one had heard of until a few years ago (a bit like 'rocket science') and 'If the lights go out' is just plain depressing lyrically. What I don't understand is why the gorgeous 'When you taught me how to dance'; Katies song from the film 'Miss Potter' is not included here as that really would provide a standout track for this collection. I'll be listening to 'Call off the Search' and 'Piece by Piece' for a long time yet but I fear this album will just gather dust.
on 7 October 2007
Having been converted to Katie Melua's style of music by my girlfriends parents, I was honestly looking forward to her new album. Piece by Piece and Call Off The Search are probably the two most meaningful albums I own and will remain on the prime shelf spot for years to come.
Sadly, however, Katie's unique way of making slightly crazy lyrics sound sexy has gone with this album. While I'd so love to sit here and compliment Katie on a wonderful release, it's safe to say that this has to be the worst work she has put out. Songs like Call Off The Search, Piece By Piece, Just Like Heaven and Nine Million Bicycles will go down in true history and will, no doubt, be a part of many an mp3 collection in the future. Sitting beside your CD player and listening to a potentially fantastic voice saying "If you were a piece of wood I'd nail you [pause] to the floor" is as much of a let down as a flat beach ball on Swansea bay.
Being a rather die-hard fan of Katie, I would still actually push people to buy this album because at the end of the day, even Madonna had albums worthy of coasters yet she still has a massive following. I can only hope this album is just a "phase" and that Katie's next album returns to her playful and emotional previous style of work.
on 26 April 2008
...and that's all I have to say really. When are we going to have a whole album of just you singing solo, along with your guitar, and nothing more? So long as the recording quality is as good as on your other albums, that's all. Time to move on Katie. Your thank you in the sleeve of pictures, to the band and to Mike, should also be your farewell to them. Your voice needs no band or producer or any one writing songs for it. I know what I'd like to hear from you, I've heard it, I've seen it, and that's just you singing alone with your guitar, thats when you are at your best. This album...good, but nothing new, and nothing here for you to sing with real feeling or emotion.