There’s business to be done here on this, 19-year-old Branch’s second full-length release. She’s at that all-important crossroads between one-hit wonderville and genuine stardom, and all eyes are on her right now. Debut album ‘The Spirit Room’ was a slow-burning success story, selling millions despite missing out on a Top 20 position either here or in her native US. Then, this spring’s just-bearable Santana collaboration (‘The Game Of Love’) managed to successfully re-ignite interest in her slipping profile.
So now we’re all up to date, the burning question is, “Is this actually any good, then?” Well, folks, let’s do the checklist and find out, shall we?
- Requisite three potential singles; check!
- Seamless glossy production; check!
- No more than two tracks of filler; check!
- Note-perfect vocals and instrumentation; check!
- Tunes that float around in your head for hours; and mate!
Yep, all the traits of the first album are there. But wait! What about the forward momentum? Where’s that inevitable bitter taste in the back of your mouth you get upon the realisation that your dream has been achieved and contentment is still cruelly out of reach? Not here, and therein lies the only real fault with ‘Hotel Paper’: it’s all a little too predictable.
After all, there’s only so far you can go within the Sheryl Crow school of record-making. Branch subscribes to this method a little too wholeheartedly and, despite channeling a series of cracking vocal performances, nothing here ever grabs you by the throat. Neither is there anything as instantly catchy (or bombastic) as her biggest hit, ‘Everywhere’ (included on some versions as a bonus track). Instead, you have the country-flecked singles in waiting ‘Tuesday Morning’ and ‘Breathe’. Oh and there’s ‘Love Me Like That’, a rootsy duo with the aforementioned Crow, which fits in, well... seamlessly.
It’s a solid piece of work, though, the sort of pop that you wouldn’t really begrudge clogging up the singles chart. No doubt Branch could continue making albums like this for years and make a good living out of it, but hopefully she’ll decide to take a few risks one day.
6Tom Edwards's Score