on 12 October 2011
I think one of the many problems Nerina Pallot has had in her career is that she's very hard to fit into a single category. With someone like Duffy, we all know what type of music she makes and that seems to make it easier for success to come. Pallot though, is a true artist, with massive singing, songwriting and musical talent. One of the aspects of her genius is that all of her albums are full of diverse sounds and styles. It's nice to see that everyone has their own favourite tracks, but one of the downsides here is that literally every single media review of every one of her albums will cite different good songs and different poor songs. I have to ask why 'professional' music reviews exist, because music is such a personal thing and a reviewer's taste always comes into it. Just google some of her album reviews and you'll soon find that I'm not talking nonsense!
Another slight downside to the diversity is that in this instant gratification day and age, people are far too quick to start typing out a review and post it for posterity. Some people may be a fan of certain tracks of previous albums, take one listen to a new album and decide they don't like it because there's not enough material which matches the style of their favourites.
I wasn't madly in love with her 3rd album, The Gradiuate, at the beginning. Coming on from what is widely regarded as her best album, Fires, it was always going to be a tough act to follow, especially as it was slightly more poppy and less singer/songwritery (I'm paraphrasing Pallot, it's not just my opinion of her style). If I'd reviewed that album after one listen: 3 stars. But after a dozen or so listens, it seemed to be a definite 4 star album! I stopped listening to it for quite a while but now, 2 years after it's release, it's back in the CD player and seems better than ever: Everything's Illuminated, the first track, suddenly sounded pretty amazing and had me pumping up the volume; Cigarette simply blew my mind, the ambient sounds and arrangements are beyond amazing... one of her very best tracks.
Year Of The Wolf. It was a bit hit & miss for me for a while. I'm no fan of Bernard Butler. Going back to Duffy for a moment, I really enjoyed her singles on the radio but when I finally bought the album and popped it into a quality hi-fi, I hated the production: samey, claustrophobic like it was made inside a box... argh! The first track and single on YOTW, Put Your Hands Up upset me quite a bit, because after about 70 seconds, it takes a huge jump in volume but not in a good way, like it's too loud for itself... typical Bernard Butler. The second track and single, Turn Me On Again, has Butler's, but it works, and I thought it was a great track. Other tracks, some I wasn't crazy about, due to their production more than anything else I think, some I loved. The ones which didn't feel they had Bernard Butler's fingers all over them, basically. Grace, History Boys, the quieter tracks, which sounded like they would at a Pallot concert. However, slowly but surely, everything grew on me. While Put Your Hands Up still doesn't sound like it's produced properly, it's a great track, very clever. Butterfly, which never did anything for me, started to grow, and I found myself singing along to it. I Do Not Want What I Do Not Have (co-written with Linda Perry), is a challenging song, but now I admire it's many qualities rather than get put off by it's slightly clashing sounds. The other tracks, well, they've just grown and grown. My kids can't get past Turn Me On again, playing it over and over again every time they're in the car, while I try desperately to persuade them to listen to the elegance and beauty of Grace and History Boys.
I'm not totally sure how well the album flows from track to track, and pretty much everything sounds very different to the next, but to me, this is verging on being a great album. Is it as good as Fires? No. If you say otherwise, I just can't figure out how you can come to that conclusion. Is it as good as Dear Frustrated Superstar? I think the highs aren't maybe quite as high (but, being a Pallot album, which songs are the highs? For me, that would be Blood Is Blood, My Last Tango, and Daphne & Apollo, to name but three) but the lows aren't as low. The media reviews seem to be more favourable than they were for The Graduate, but I think that was an underrated album... I'd say they're about equal. Both worth buying for their best tracks, whatever you feel they are.
I just have to ask myself why she used Bernard Butler. I know: she thought her previous albums were missing guitar. Would the album have been better without him producing it? Yes, for sure, I Do Not Want What I Do Not Have, and I'm pretty happy overall. I just wish she'd search her heart and make the album which feels like it's really her and not come out with crazy comments like "everyone's tired of the singer/songwriter thing" as an explanation of why she's not making another Fires. Maybe not having the success you deserve has you asking what you're doing wrong, forcing you to tweak your own niche. When sales of Amy Winehouse (RIP), Duffy and Adele go supernova and you're left wondering what you're doing wrong, it must be hard to deal with, or at least hard to get your head around. But in my opinion, Fires blows away anything they've done.