Let’s just get the Sting’s daughter stuff out of the way first. Twenty-year-old Coco Sumner is indeed the fruit of the bass-thumbing Police-man and film producer Trudie Styler’s collective loins. I Blame Coco sees her try her hand at shamelessly retrogressive synth-pop. To her credit she had a hand in writing every track (bar a cover version) although greatly aided by the tutelage of a raft of different producers including Klas Åhlund, the producer of Robyn, who pops up herself having contributed backing vocals to debut single ‘Caesar’.
As for daddy’s influence? Gordon Sumner and Coco (Eliot to her old man) are in completely different ball parks; without wishing to pigeonhole, there’s no denying that Coco can be pretty comfortably filed next to the shiny synth-pop of other young British females of recent years, namely Marina and the Diamonds, Florence etc. Although perhaps the one thing that really distinguishes her from the likes of Marina and Florence is the one aspect of her music to which Sting can stake something of a claim; she might cite the familiar influence of Kate Bush, but not for Coco the wailing vocal histrionics to which Marina and Florence are mercilessly prone. Coco’s voice is of a strangely husky tone, generally keeping to the lower register, never sustaining notes for show and pretty reminiscent of her father in its rhythm and intonation.
It gives a muscular leanness to the punchy beats and juddering It’s Blitz-style synth pulse of opener ‘Self Machine’ and on recent single ‘In Golden Spirit’ it’s so plummy that on first listen you could be forgiven for thinking there’s a male guest until the track hits the keening hi-energy disco chorus. It’s interesting to hear the androgyny of her synth pop inspirations inverted so (think Human League) and her voice is capable of lending the odd track an edge that might otherwise be missing. Most impressive is the solemn ‘Summer Rain’, wherein Coco demonstrates this inherited sense of vocal rhythm is a manner that complements the stuttering dry beats and with an emotive power that stands up to both the pensive mood of the piano verses and the melodramatic M83-esque grind of the chorus. The song even boasts a diversion from the programmed beats into a sinister rumba.
Yet ‘Summer Rain’ is one of too few tracks which breaks the restrictive mould of the record, which is not only overly indebted to retrogressive synth-pop stylistically, but also lacks the ingenuity and song writing attention to detail required to prevent the record becoming a repetitive and ultimately dull affair. The aforementioned singles lend themselves to the role by dint of forcefulness, but neither are particularly memorable and there are a number of tracks which are even weaker facsimiles. Come the fifth track ‘Please Rewind’, a basic pattern emerges; a mechanistic beat, first verse typically just a bass or synth throb then an overcrowded chorus, where almost everything seems to be fore grounded for impact, then repeat with slight variations. In the absence of memorable tunes it quickly dulls the senses. The limitations of Coco’s voice become apparent: it's too inflexible and blunt an instrument to make up for her often forced rhymes, such as ‘In Golden Spirit’s “Golden… hold them… control them”.
Later tracks ‘The Constant’ and ‘Party Bag’ bear almost no distinguishing features whatsoever, certain songs at least attempt their own little twists; ‘Turn Your Back On Love’ has a melody extremely reminiscent of The Killers’ ‘When You Were Young’; ‘Caesar’ has a little vocal variation thanks to Robyn; and ‘Quicker’ has some kitsch Saint Etienne-style house piano, an influence which is taken to its extreme with a thoroughly pointless cover of that group’s cover of Neil Young’s ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’, which is almost identical to the Saint Etienne version. These stylistic accents are merely tokenistic twists on the tiresome template that provides the backbone of the record.
There are other rays of light. ‘Playwrite Fate’ is a more nuanced affair all round, with neat interplay between guitar and glockenspiel, suggesting the melody rather than trying to beat you into submission with it. ‘No Smile’ is one the track betraying Coco’s parentage, an electro-skank cloaked in dark ominous keyboard washes and crashing drums. ‘It’s About To Get Worse’ is a funereal march with epic pretensions and waves of ‘My Girls’-style bleeping, which in it’s repetitiveness hits upon a gentle insistence and ends the record on high musically, although gracefully forlorn in mood.
However, until Coco can hit upon this kind of refinement of her influences in a more general sense, she seems destined to be known firstly for who her father is and only secondly for her own artistic achievements.
5Neil Ashman's Score