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A waste of a talented singer
on 26 March 2007
I would have liked to have given this album four stars, or even five. I had high hopes for it after Hayley's very promising previous album Odyssey. I pre-ordered it, so I've had it since it was released, and I've hesitated about reviewing it because I don't like writing bad reviews. But in the interests of honesty I really think a few things need saying.
To try to be balanced, let's look briefly at things Hayley's done before this album. If you're one of those people made happy by Hayley singing `Away in a Manger' a while ago, you'll probably like this album. On the other hand if you're one of the people who deplore hearing a good singer wasted on songs for five year olds, you'll be horrified. Apparently Hayley had rejected that song earlier, but it seems to have come back like a bad smell and she ended up recording it despite her initial rejection of it. All credit to Hayley for trying to get rid of it, anyway. All credit to her as well for being determined to sing Wuthering Heights on her first album, despite reservations from a record company that thought a song that reached the number one spot a quarter of a century ago was a bit too adventurous.
The result was a lacklustre instrumental performance that let the song down and probably added to a few avoidable problems that came up with the release of that song. But Wuthering Heights was on her first international album, Pure. The second, Odyssey, was much better, full of strong arrangements, fine production, and a strong, confident and feeling performance by Hayley. In the meantime, Away in a Manger sounded a definite warning of horrors that may happen. That's the story so far, briefly told, leading up to this album.
Some people do like this album. I've already suggested who they might be. Decca seem to want to keep Hayley firmly in a small, rather too cosy niche market, with a core group of fans - I seem to recall Hayley herself requesting some of them to be a bit less fanatical. She's like that, it seems - a nice, decent person, balanced and.... well, in a rut, really, which she doesn't deserve to be in.
So why did I pre-order this album? Because her last one was so good, and also because she's done some of the songwriting on this one. That last fact is the reason I gave this review two stars instead of just one. The best thing about this album is the budding talent struggling to break through the sugary and heavy-handed arrangements. But as with Hayley's earlier bid for freedom, Wuthering Heights, everyone else seems to want to drag her back.
I won't review the album track by track. Some of it is quite listenable, if undistinguished - undemanding easy listening, ok for a while until you remember what sort of music you could be listening to instead. Some of it is irritating because it could be much better. Some of it actually isn't bad at all, but it gets dragged down by the music around it - because some of it is awful beyond description. The execrable Whispering Hope is perhaps the best example of the worst.
It'd be more constructive to just advise anyone thinking of buying it to listen to it first. You may like it. Or like me you may find far too much of it basically unlistenable. I certainly wouldn't buy Hayley's next album without hearing it first. But with luck, the next one just may pick up on the promise of Odyssey and give Hayley's talents the support they deserve.
And if you do listen to this one and find it as awful as I do, check out Odyssey as well. You may find it much better.
Treasure is supposed to showcase songs that are important in Hayley's ancestry and background. Fair enough. But good artists improve on their background and bring something new and vital to it. Hayley evidently has roots in this stuff, but it would have been nice to hear her putting out shoots instead - making more use of that songwriting talent, and co-working with creative songwriters as well as skilled arrangers.
If Hayley wants to waste her abilities on this kind of stuff, then so be it. And if as a listener you actually like this stuff, then buy it, obviously. I thought I really should make some comments as a warning to people who expect something far better on the basis of what Hayley achieved on Odyssey, though. Who knows - maybe Hayley will break free eventually and make full use of her talents. And the rest of the musical world will probably welcome her with open arms when she does - if they can forget Away in a Manger and Whispering Hope.