Review Summary: Every song on English Rain I loved. With only a few mishaps, it is definitely above average and a fantastic debut album.
I’m not going to be a hipster and pretend I discovered Gabrielle Aplin before I was bloody born or something! I discovered her when I heard her rendition of ‘The Power of Love’ on the John Lewis advert. I then watched the full thing on YouTube which amazed me. I then followed her and listened to her music on YouTube. I purchased a signed copy of her single 'The Power of Love' which became No. 1, I saw her live in Bristol, and finally pre-ordered a signed copy of her new album: English Rain. I already found her to be a wonderful artist. Is this sentiment maintained with the release of her Debut album?
When I first hear any new song, I look out for the lyrics the most. I want to hear meaning in them; that is the most important thing to me. English Rain definitely contains meaningful lyrics. This is evident in 'Ready to Question' “I’m ready to question, that life is a blessing, Give me a sign, am I following blind?” We all have ‘first world problems’ (a term that’s been going around lately) and these lyrics can be relatable. They get the listener thinking deeper about what the lyrics could mean and what they mean to them personally. I feel that sometimes there the bad in life outweighs the good so that brings me to question if it is a blessing. The following blind part is relatable because I’m unsure if I am taking the right path academically – as many teenagers feel. Other examples of meaning are in 'Home' - “’Cause they say home is where your heart is set in stone… It’s not just where you make your bed, As long as we’re together does it matter where we go?” and Start of Time: “I’m an atom in the sea of nothing, looking for another to combine”.
What I find even more of a meaningful statement is that Gabrielle writes her own lyrics. This is what a true musician does. I understand if someone has an amazing voice but cannot write, however allow the writers to take the credit. People admire actors but the writers in film still get recognition; it doesn't seem to be the same in the Music Industry. She writes most of her songs with Nick Atkinson.
Meaning is spread throughout Gabrielle’s lyrics on English Rain but the significance of them depend on how relatable they’re to you (therefore how much you connect with them emotionally). Lyrics are open to interpretation – they’re not necessarily fact – unless the lyricist explains their writings. Some may view all of Gabrielle’s songs to be about lovers/partners. However, ‘Keep on Walking’ (“I feel so much better when you’re not around, there’s no one to kick me while I’m down”) could be to anyone in life that is pulling you down or pestering you. ‘How Do You Feel Today?’ and ‘Alive’ also have no strong lyrics that indicate a lover being involved.
I noticed there are some literary techniques being used: similes and metaphors (“We’re just a box of souvenirs”, “Like a thief in the light…”); personification (“The night has a thousand eyes”); and imagery. This is used to bring more depth to Gabrielle’s writing. Although GCSE level techniques, these do increase the written quality of the songs. Take Rihanna’s 'Diamonds' (“Shine bring like a diamond”) as the opposite; the entire song is based around that one simile – Gabrielle uses these techniques to move the story of the songs along rather that fixate on them as the central theme.
The only negative to the lyrics is they can get a little repetitive upon reflection. The only song where I felt the repetitiveness become a little too much is in 'Start of Time'. “It’s like the sun came out” is repeated God knows how many times.
Gabrielle’s vocals are beautiful. Her general style is high pitched which makes her voice sound sweet and soft. Strength and power are traits that flow through the vocals when needed, so do not discount this; Gabrielle has mastered her voice – she knows how to control it very well. However, as listenable as her vocals are, they’re not phenomenal. She cannot perform the vocal acrobatics of, let’s say, Jessie J and isn't exactly as diverse as a rock vocalist. There are points where I felt that if Gabrielle just went all out with passion it would have made the song so much more intense. This is notable in ‘Salvation’ at about 2:50 – the violin and other instruments build suspense, getting higher and higher, and set Gabrielle up to hold a powerful, high, satisfying note at the end of the line... she merely drops the note lower, and then off… With all this said, Gabrielle uses diction professionally as a singer (and uniquely) which makes listening to her easy and desirable.
I can tell that Gabrielle and the musicians playing alongside her, on English Rain, know what they’re doing. The traditional structure of a song has been used with Common time (a time signature of 4/4). However enough hooks and variations/additions have been used to keep the listener interested. At times there are violins and pianos and backing vocals to accompany Gabrielle. This all adds up to make an album that is worthy of more than one listen which also doesn't get boring after one listen. At the end of ‘Salvation’ and ‘Start of Time’ there are beautiful and thrilling instrumental compositions.
My only problem, with the way the album has been put together, is the difference in the way tracks sound. I do not mean variation in the way various songs sound. I mean the quality of the recording. Make no mistake, they all sound professionally recorded. However, because 'Home' and 'Please Don’t Say You Love Me' were on EPs before (though it sounds like backing vocals have been added on each) and 'The Power of Love' was released as a single, in its own right, when transitioning songs, different recording qualities are noticeable which disrupts the flow of the album as a whole. In 'Alive' and 'Salvation' it sounds like vocal enhancement has been used (especially when compared to the other songs).
I bought the deluxe album and received an extra CD. This contained two wonderful songs: 'Evaporate' and 'Wake Up with Me'. I feel 'Wake Up with Me' should have been on CD1 because Gabrielle uses a different tone; it’s softer and fits the lyrics well. Apart from these additional songs, though, CD2 is quite pointless. It contains recordings from ‘the RAK sessions’. However, nothing is raw; it just shows that she can record a song in studio quality in one take. Gabrielle is great live so your best bet is to watch YouTube videos.
When I receive a new album I usually listen to it once completely and then go back to the best songs straight after. Every song on English Rain I loved and I had to listen to it, completely, twice in a row. With only a few mishaps, English Rain is definitely above average and a fantastic debut album, from someone who came from writing meaningful songs in her bedroom (at 14) and displaying it to the world on YouTube.