Year Of The Wolf [VINYL] Original recording
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Brave lady, Nerina Pallot. Choosing to work with Duffy producer Bernard Butler for similarly 60s-slanted, Motown-referencing pop can’t fail to raise comparisons and expectations. And given Duffy moved on to another sound/producer with diminishing returns, there’s the chance someone will think Butler was the X factor in that relationship. But Pallot is a lot more experienced and tenacious than Duffy (she’d have to be to contend with Butler’s hands-on approach). She’s survived major label shenanigans, releasing her second album Fires independently despite having hits while on Warners (she’s now signed to Geffen). And she writes, or co-writes, all her own songs; although interestingly there’s not a single Butler co-write here. We’re talking services-to-the-stars songcraft here.
The opening Put Your Hands Up, for example, was originally intended for Kylie Minogue (Pallot’s got credits on Aphrodite). But it wouldn’t sound this way if it had reached Kylie. This version is initially restrained, subtly lifted by those keening, Butler-patented strings; but 70 seconds in, it unexpectedly kicks in at twice the volume and energy, with Butler’s guitar pushed up behind the beat and the auto-suggestion of liberation. It’s a masterstroke, to add to the song’s already inch-perfect flow. Compare that to her last album, 2009’s The Graduate, whose electronic sheen lacked direction and identity (did she want to be Kylie-meets-Alanis? Probably not). Brought on board by Pallot’s love of The Sound of McAlmont & Butler, our Bernard knows how to make a song swing and his guitar always responds to Pallot’s nimble touch – check the zippy solo that briefly pops out of Turn Me on Again.
Even when Pallot plays with pop conventions, she’s never flash or crass. If I Lost You Now’s jazzy MOR chords have the classy hallmark of Hall & Oates, and This Will Be Our Year isn’t far behind Raphael Saadiq’s current 60s-black-hall-of-fame love fest. But the album’s second half shows Pallot can be hemmed in by pop convention, when she should be breaking out. The hushed piano-ballad finale History Boys (written when pregnant, amid reports of child casualties of war) is a beauty, but the likes of I Think fall into that grey zone between rock and pop. Still, Year of the Wolf could be a commercial monster to match Duffy’s if led by the right singles (Put Your Hands Up is first). But assuming she wants it, Pallot won’t make the same giddy impact until she truly embraces her inner bravery.
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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.
I'm very happy and fellow fans, old and new shouldn't hesitate to buy this straight away. It's lovely music to relax to but also has tracks which are brilliant and upbeat.
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