Review Summary: Has this eccentric Brit fallen victim to the dreaded second album curse?
While it is both cliché and over-stated to suggest that an artist’s second album is the one which most shapes their career, the rule will more often than not hold when said artist is perceived to be a bandwagon jumper. A member of the female Brit revolution of the late noughties, London-born singer-songwriter Paloma Faith actually splits her time between two cliques: the soul-pop of Winehouse, Adele, Duffy & Co., as well as the quirky theatricality of Florence, Marina, Lily & Co.. As can be seen by that sextet alone, a number of things can occur come LP number two; Winehouse and Adele became bona fide worldwide superstars, Florence and Lily consolidated through embellishment, while Duffy and Marina attempted something a little more risky to mixed results. Unfortunately, if anything, it is the latter couple which the eccentric 26 year old Faith joins on her second full-length release ‘Fall to Grace’.
Promisingly, the album gets off to a strong start... While it may not have the immediate pizzazz of outstanding debut single ‘Stone Cold Sober’, opener and lead single ‘Picking Up the Pieces’ is sufficiently melodic and memorable. It also does a good job of laying down the foundation of Faith’s objective on ‘Fall to Grace’: To deliver a sound just as grand as predecessor ‘Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful"’, but one which is both matured and modernized. The following ’30 Minute Love Affair’ and ‘Black & Blue’ continue the momentum; the former being an endearing pop song, and the latter an engrossing and uplifting take on the “Your life’s not as bad as you think it is” theme. Most importantly, the opening trio are excellent vehicles for Faith’s distinctive voice and steer clear of her occasionally irritating want to over-sing... Regrettably, they are as good as ‘Fall to Grace’ gets!
With the aforementioned highlights containing multiple qualities, listeners are likely to initially ignore the background bells and whistles. However, that won’t apply for the remainder of ‘Fall to Grace’, which contains an abundance of atypically commonplace ballads that Adele could well make work, but Faith has issues with. The squeakiness of her voice harms heartfelt piano ballad ‘Just Be’, while the usually gifted storyteller is too impenetrable here, with only the tale of destructive relationships that is ‘Agony’ – whose chorus is disconcertingly similar to The Killers’ ‘Mr. Brightside’ – shining through. Tellingly, producers Nellee Hooper (Bjork) and Jake Gosling (Ed Sheeran) have over-dosed on Emile Haynie’s work on Lana Del Rey’s ‘Born to Die’, with many tunes feeling like pop leftovers that have been garnished with sub-par modern production values to differentiate them. By the time ‘Freedom’ mercifully adds a little tempo, and closer ‘Streets of Glory’ contributes some rousing orchestration, it all feels like it’s too little too late for this LP which feels longer than its 45 minute duration.
Since it is far from awful and contains sufficient substance amongst the so-called style, ‘Fall to Grace’ may have been cut more slack had it been Paloma Faith’s debut LP. As it is, however, it is undeniably a step down from her excellent 2009 release, with too little suiting such a distinctive artist. While the sound may have felt like a good idea on paper, it comes off too much like measured experimentation - whether for commercial purposes or otherwise. For proof, one need only listen to the ill-fitting mid-album tandem that is ‘Let Me Down Easy’ and ‘Blood Sweat & Tears’; the former a ho-hum bluesy cover of Bettye LaVette’s 1965 song, and the latter a schlocky 70s disco tune that channels Gloria Gaynor! We can only hope that Faith is better for the experience and channels her experimentation more wisely in the future, because it would be a shame to see another talented artist fall to the dreaded second album curse. Anyone doubting that talent exists may want to check out the LPs ‘Deluxe Version’, containing five of these tracks played acoustically... Most of which equal or better the original versions.
Recommended Tracks: Picking Up the Pieces, Black & Blue and 30 Minute Love Affair.