Using the most euphemistic phrasing possible, music fans are a fickle breed. Artists met with applause and adoration upon their arrival are met with boos and barbarous social media criticisms after the slightest stumble. But in the last decade Corinne Bailey Rae has been consistently met with open arms. She has achieved upper-echelon status in the popular conscious, even though her latest offering, The Heart Speaks In Whispers, marks only her second studio album since her self-titled 2006 debut.
The album’s artwork, featuring Bailey encircled by a kaleidoscope of glittering colour, seems to inform the myriad textures she employs on the album. As one of the most gifted songstresses in the modern age, captivating and seductive vocal pirouettes are to be expected. But never before has she been so courageous in her production choices, routinely abandoning her typical jazzy sonic palette for more rollicking rhythms. The album commences with 'The Skies Will Break', primarily buffeted by her customary acoustic guitar stylings. But soon a whirlwind of deafening synths penetrate the stillness, and Corinne’s lithe, supple vocals effortlessly adapt to the alternating instrumentation.
On the surface, 'Hey, I Won’t Break Your Heart' relies more heavily on her typical onslaught of jazzy acoustics and a sultry voice that always demands complete attention. But as her vocals coil and spiral into an exhilarating climax, both a chorus of backup voices and piano strokes attend her, amplifying the overall effect. Never an artist prone to risk-aversion, 'Been To The Moon' expertly dabbles in the traditional vocal stylings of Billie Holiday while tinted by soft drum taps and a resounding organ, exuding an equal parts classical and contemporary feel. By the time the chorus rolls around, Bailey is wholly in her element, enthusiastically navigating a surefire touchstone and resume mainstay.
In rare moments, she overextends her free-flowing sensibilities, and attempts to fuse one too many disparate parts into a seamless whole. 'Tell Me', with its fusion of dancehall and contemporary pop, is not a complete disaster, but there is an overwhelming feeling that the record might have achieved it purpose if for not the overcrowded and wayward nature. But composition is one of Bailey's specialties, and she quickly rebounds from even the tiniest missteps, as on the sensuous nature 'Horse Print Dress' or the album’s zenith, 'Caramel'. That song showcases all the nuances and splendour of Corrine’s vocal range, so much so that the deeply catchy instrumentation is easily to go unnoticed on first listen.
Similarly, the album’s closer, 'Night', is a magnificent panorama of one of the most addictive voices in contemporary music. If there has ever been ill-will towards Bailey, it most likely has to due with the minimal amount of music she has created in the last decade. But in light of the tragedies she has had to contend with, the public should be lucky that her ingenious artistic spirit remains uncharred. Maybe some artists, who have no qualms about shelling out uninspired material year after year should take a page out of Bailey's book. If the past is any indicator, it may be a while before her next release, but something tells me it will be worth the wait.
8Kellan Miller's Score