The first thing you're likely to read about Corinne Bailey Rae's new record The Sea
, is that it was recorded while she was dealing with the death of her husband to a drug overdose. From the time she achingly intones the question "Are you here?" on the album's opener, until she determinedly advises herself, "Don't you stand there wishing your life would fade away" on the closer and title track, the sorrow is palpable. At first, it's all you hear and it's hard not to interpret every lyric as having to do with her personal tragedy.
Adding to the somber mood is the sound of the music. This is not a record that jumps out at you. It's subtle and reluctant to show its hand, full of organ flourishes, mournful melodies and odd flavors like autoharp and vocoder. Nothing here comes close to her joyous smash, "Put Your Records On" or the simplicity of "Like A Star" from her self-titled 2006 debut. But The Sea
does yield moments of real beauty, they're just not wrapped up in a neat little pop package anymore.
You have to dig deeper to find your rewards with this record. The childlike guitar figure of "Are You Here" stays with you, the continental charm of "Paris Nights/New York Mornings" lightens the mood and her collaboration with Questlove and James Poyser of The Roots on "The Blackest Lily" brings out a surprising flash of sexuality. "You were unnervingly delicate, I had a weakness for etiquette", she purrs seductively. It's a relief to hear such an elegant come-on, with so much Gaga saturating the airwaves.
But Bailey Rae relies too much on her highly stylized, mush-mouthed vocals. It's a ubiquitous affectation, meant to signify soulfulness or jazziness. Granted, she does it better than most, but it creates distance, not intimacy. Maxwell's BLACKsummers'night
raised the bar for neo-soul singers. Going for a live sound and darker textures is nothing new. The anti-climaxes add up and one grows impatient with Bailey Rae and her occasionally too tasteful group of musicians for letting the bottom drop out when the music seems to be swelling towards a payoff.
But despite her reluctance to deliver the hooks she's known for, The Sea
does give us a moving account of where she is now. There's no reason to ask for anything more. -Dan Siegler
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MP3:"I'll Do It All Again" - The Sea
Corinne Bailey Rae on Myspace