Review Summary: Natalie Walker returns to trip hop and drags her pop influences along for the ride.
Natalie Walker began her career as the vocalist for trip hop group Daughter Darling
, but it didn’t take her very long to decide to go solo. Her first solo release, though, didn’t turn out to be much different than the band she had just left – mainly due to the fact that it was supposed to be the second Daughter Darling release. It wasn’t until her second album, With You
, that she stepped away from the chill trip hop of her initial band, and towards a much more upbeat pop direction. The tempos were increased, the melodies were cheerier and the vocal hooks were infectious, but it also relegated the trip hop influences to a supporting role. Natalie Walker’s third album, Spark
, definitely still brings the pop influence of the previous release, but it does so while employing a prominent trip hop blueprint.
Opening track (and first single) “Uptight” features the kind of subdued trip hop that Natalie Walker hasn’t created since her Daughter Darling days, but it is feels much more developed. The chorus is instantly memorable and the accompanying melodic layers – including acoustic guitar, violins, and keyboards – add a fullness that her music has previously lacked. In fact, the album is dominated by this more fully-developed take on Natalie’s trip hop roots. Just about every track makes use of a solid trip hop foundation, a warm layer of melodic elements, a subtle pop undercurrent and Natalie’s poignant vocals. The difference between these songs and Natalie’s previous endeavors is that everything feels much more complete and nothing feels awkward or out-of-place. In fact, the only song to take on the upbeat nature of the previous album is the catchy “Cool Kids”, but even that song is much better than anything she has done previously.
Let’s face it, there are some great songs in Natalie Walker’s back-catalog, but none of her albums have been consistent from start to finish -- that finally changes with the release of Spark
. Her decision to integrate a bit of the levity and pop influence from With You
into the trip hop of her earliest material has turned out to be the formula that works best. It has allowed her to cater to those that loved the chill beats and lush melodies of her earliest material while still appealing to those that require their music to be much more instant and cheerful.