Albums of the week: Jorja Smith to Angelique Kidjo
Grammy Award-winning Beninese singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo’s new album, Remain In Light, is a highlight this week, as is the fantastic debut record from Brits Critics’ Choice Award-winner Jorja Smith.
ANGELIQUE KIDJO — REMAIN IN LIGHT
Talking Heads’ 1980 classic was a vibrant collage of synths, post-punk vocals and most importantly African polyrhythms, so when Beninese musical royalty Angelique Kidjo performed the album live in Carnegie Hall last year, the audacity made perfect sense.
On record, the vitality is amplified. Lines in Fon and Yoruba give a different kind of velocity to familiar grooves; Crosseyed and Painless outstrips the original with ebullient Afrobeat, punchy production and Kidjo’s humanity (a quality David Byrne often seemed to shed) highlighting the song’s relevance.
Seen and Not Seen doubles the beauty of its text, placing Fon, the language spoken in Kidjo’s native Benin, in conversation with English. And just when her Once in a Lifetime seems to lose the original’s magic, it gains its own as a trumpet-led outro sets the Antibalas-like rhythm alight.
ELEANOR TOMLINSON — TALES FROM HOME
Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson is following the tradition of actors releasing covers albums in time for Father’s Day.
Tales From Home at least has the distinction of an uncommonly tasteful selection of tracks, including new versions of Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind, Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me and Fairport Convention’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes.
Inevitably, however, Tomlinson doesn’t bring much in the way of originality or pizzazz to her interpretations. She has a pleasant if not particularly distinctive voice, but the music is bland and rather cheap-sounding, like supermarket muzak.
As amiably inoffensive as a Sunday evening period drama.
JORJA SMITH — LOST & FOUND
“Yeah, like that,” Jorja Smith instructs her studio engineers at the opening of Lost & Found. “Sounds cool.” That calm assurance and Smith’s rich, soulful voice show an artist who, despite being just 20 and on her debut album, has honed her craft over multiple singles and collaborations with the likes of Drake and Stormzy — even if the childish giggle at the end of Teenage Fantasy is a reminder of her tender age.
Smith, who won the Critics’ Choice Award at this year’s Brits, featured on last year’s Artists For Grenfell charity single, and her political conscience brings out the best in her.
Her 2016 debut single Blue Lights, a Dizzee Rascal-sampling take on persecution of people of colour, is perhaps even more relevant since its original release — all the more so in America, where she performed it for Jimmy Kimmel on her late-night TV debut. It remains a standout here and is followed up by Lifeboats (Freestyle), a powerful attack on greed culture and the chasm between rich and poor.
LYKKE LI — SO SAD SO SEXY
In So Sad So Sexy, Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li presents a musical appraisal of modern pop, hitting all the hallmarks of modern chart music without compromising her identity as a musician. The songstress has never shied away from the darker topics, covering heartbreak and self-harm in former albums, and in spite of her latest album’s modernity it retains this emotional intensity.
The album opener, Hard Rain, starts on familiar ground with sparse, Imogen Heap-style vocals over an electro-pop backing, and it soon shows the fruits of this album’s collaboration with American hip-hop producers, with trap beats and darkly distorted vocals. The effect is striking, with Lykke Li’s startling, moving vocals interplaying beautifully with the familiarly poppy production.
As the album progresses, we are reminded of the darkness in her music, and the astute album title slides into focus. Though she borrows the sexy aesthetic of chart music, Lykke Li has cleverly countered it with her moving and challenging lyrical themes.
MY GLASS WORLD — PRISONERS OF GRAVITY
Good quality adult pop is thinly-occupied territory. Adele heads the female list and Paul Heaton the male by some margin, but to that list could well be added keyboard player and songwriter Jamie Telford.
Operating under the band name of My Glass World, Telford has produced this 10-track album (plus a hidden one) of atmospheric and somewhat melancholy songs that cover grown-up concerns rather than merely boy-meets-girl-loses-girl tropes. The backing musicians don’t overwhelm the songs, allowing Telford and his piano to be the main focus. This is a thoughtful collection of slightly world-weary songs that bear serious listening and appreciation.