However colourful her history - a childhood in Australia, New York lunch dates with Quentin Crisp, all-girl punk-funk outfits - every review of Petra Jean Phillipson's debut stab at going it alone (this one is no exception) will be prefaced by three words: The Free Association. David Holmes' band proper never really raced from its starting blocks, but nevertheless attracted plaudits enough to enable its vocalist to emabrk upon this, her solo career. Okay, so said career's spark was its protagonist's unhappiness with the lifestyle of a globe-touring band, but do you really think Phillipson would be in this position without her few years of after-a-fashion fame on the CV? Exactly.
But, to the album at hand: Notes On Love is an 11-track calling card for potential career suitors, Phillipson's admittedly excellent voice given all the room it desires to flex its sizeable talent. 'I'm Lying', 'One Day', 'On Me Jack': many songs are simple compositions - a gently coaxed piano, a double bass, a feather-light strum of dusty acoustic guitar - characterised only by Phillipson's husky voice, its sweet soul shattered by an indescribable ache and softened by a hundred shots of bourbon. A cover of Nick Cave's 'Into My Arms' is lovingly rendered, but its inclusion does rather highlight the average nature of so many of these original compositions, written in collaboration with former Verve man Simon Tong. They're far from boring, but the familiarity sets in as early as the fourth track; from then on the attention wavers worryingly.
The above considered, though, Notes On Love is still a fine debut from a woman whose past unhappiness absolutely resonates within her performance, her voice sounding older than her 32 years. The sole problem is that there's no immediate hit, no obvious single-style song with with to sucker the listener in for the longhaul. Maybe that'll be a feature of solo album number two, but for now Phillipson will have to make do with half-hearted praise for her immense potential alone. Not that we didn't have that primed before hearing so much as a second of this.
6Mike Diver's Score