Review Summary: Don’t sleep on that other English girl with the gorgeous voice who isn’t named Adele.
When you’re a young female singer/songwriter from Britain, it’s easy to be outshone by the international supernova that is Adele. Alas, even blessed with a voice like satin and a range as extensive as the Andes, this is still where Jasmine van den Bogaerde (Birdy) finds herself in spite of her success.
The teenager is best known for her rendition of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” a piano-driven ballad every bit as somber and moving as “Somebody Like You.” Yet, its 140 million plays on Spotify, impressive by nearly every other metric, seems paltry in comparison to the juggernaut “Hello,” which is quickly approaching a billion and a half views on Youtube.
So, even the uber-talented and accomplished 19-year-old van den Bogaerde is susceptible to what appears as a law of the cosmos. Not even her stardom moving at the speed of light can escape the gravitational eddies of Adele, a black hole situated in the center of the pop universe.
And that sucks…for now.
Although there’s always room for improvement, van den Bogaerde crafts an intimate and elegant record in Beautiful Lies
that won’t get the attention it deserves, and the praise it will receive will consist of hasty comparisons to Adele, whose shadow she can’t get out from under yet. This is disappointing, but as van den Bogaerde shows herself to be more energetic and versatile than her omnipresent peer, the potential is there one day for her to snatch away the crown.
Right from get-go, she demonstrates a willingness to experiment. Founded on Chinese zither-laden chords, opener “Growing Pains” seduces with the mysterious twangs of the Orient before blossoming into van den Bogaerde’s restrained, yet silky embrace in the refrain. Furthermore, she discards her folk influences. Sprinkles of indie pop instead can be heard throughout but are most effective on lead single, “Keeping Your Head Up.” Here, the verses splatter with synth until her voice tiptoes upstairs to falsetto heights as groups like Foster the People are wont to do, and her delivery evokes Two Door Cinema Club’s “Something Good Can Work.” On the preceding “Shadow,” van den Bogaerde drops low and mingles to and fro with the bass guitar in sultry interplay.
With tracks like these, it’s clear there’s a vitality in van den Bogaerde’s artistry that Adele, who nevertheless is divinely gifted, lacks in her recent work. Although both starlets tread similar lyrical territory, Adele tends to revel in her troubled past, the gloom of which pervades her music. Van den Bogaerde’s much more forward-looking, and that catharsis comes through on the album. Even on the somewhat generic and single-begging “Wild Horses,” for example, there’s a spring in her performance and just more life in the defiant line of “Wild horses run in me,” thereby strengthening a trite metaphor, than in Adele’s cliché rumblings about “make[ing] it out of that town where nothing ever happened” or “It looks like a movie/It looks like a song.” Point is van den Bogaerde sounds decades younger than the nine years separating her and Adele.
So, it’s unfortunate that Beautiful Lies’
latter side slows down tempo-wise a lot. It doesn’t descend to the soul-sucking, melancholy doldrums of her contemporary in mood, but there’s no denying the midsection drags a little. At 14 tracks in length, perhaps weaker entries like “Take My Heart” could have been cut. It’s not until the piano numbers near album’s end--of which the exquisite “Unbroken” is the best--that some consistency and momentum are recovered.
But overall, there’s vastly more good than bad; more promise than reason to worry. Albeit somewhat of a grower, Beautiful Lies
boasts enough creativity and energy here to bode well for the future as Birdy continues to stretch her wings.
Heaven’s the limit.