Music's great isn't it? Well not all of it — some of it's shit. But there's an album of great music out today and, like a lot of great pop music, it runs the risk of falling through the cracks in the pop pavement when really it should be blasting out of military-grade loudspeakers on every street corner.
As it happens, the album in question is the direct result of its creator spending the last decade falling through cracks. It's third reinvention lucky for an artist who has already lived two pop lifetimes, which is to say she's been signed (and dropped) by not one but two major labels over the last ten years.
For each phase of her career, she's shifted her look and sound. First she was a UK R&B artist, and she was pretty good. It didn't quite work. Then she championed a strange but interesting pop-doo-wop sound. That didn't really work either. Last year, under her own steam, she started putting out music again, changing direction for a second time. There was, apparently, an album ready to go, but ten months ago she pulled the plug on the whole thing. It wasn't right, she said. And then she sort of disappeared. She went away, and she made the album that is released today.
Some people seem to have found this constant genre-hopping slightly disingenuous, as if this transparently motivated singer songwriter is just crossing off musical styles on a list until one of them finally brings her success. It's strange how some pop artists are applauded for being queens of reinvention while others are labelled desperate. Anyway, the album that's out today doesn't seem desperate. If anything it just underlines this artist's versatility. And yes, she may be hoping for success — her interviews, tweets and songs burst with ambition. But at the same time, quite right too. How many decent popstars truly lack ambition? We can think of two.
Anyway, after all the ups and downs and further downs associated with going through the major label mangle twice, it's brilliant that the plaudits that will surely come for this new album will be hers, and hers alone, to absorb. She's releasing it on her own label, too. How great must that feel. You spend a decade ricocheting between major label A&Rs, product managers, publicists, pluggers and all the rest. All these people who are doing their best with music that isn't quite right for whatever the public, or the radio and TV people who stand between you and the public, are looking for at that point in pop history. So you and the people you're working with start bending over backwards to make people happy, and it doesn't really work, and it's all pretty shit. And then you piss off and do something by yourself and it's brilliant. Really brilliant.
About three years ago, when her second attempt at chart success had gone tits up and the singer was trapped in the kind of post-deal netherworld from which few popstars tend to escape, members of various music forums (including the Popjustice one) took the piss out of her when she posted a video talking about 'development'. They made a gif of her spelling the word de-vel-op-ment. It probably seemed quite funny to a handful of people and the video was, to be fair, pretty terrible. With hindsight she was probably having some sort of breakdown, artistically at least. But in 2013, she's vindicated. The development, now complete, was extraordinary, and necessary.
Often when artists are dropped they limp ahead trying to extend a career that's already failing. It's like they're fixing the roof of a collapsing house. You'll see them talking a lot about the freedom they now have. Actually, very often, they're not making the most of that freedom. The music they're making isn't that different from what they did before — they're just trying to do it on a budget. So when they talk about their freedom they're actually still trapped by the decisions that were made when they were at their former label.
But here's an album that revels in the fact that, actually, nobody was really waiting for it. Away from the pressure of expectation, this artist has made an album that far exceeds the promise of her earlier attempts. It's a big album. The melodies are huge. The production — electronic, dark, enveloping — is exquisite. The vocals are extraordinary. Lyrically there's immense power and depth. It's an album that creates its own world, insular and at times claustrophobic, but large parts of it are brilliantly accessible. It feels like the perfect companion piece to Siobhan Donaghy's 'Ghosts', another album made by someone who had to hit the bottom in order to discover the true extent of her creativity.
To start with, we didn't really get what the artist was trying to do with this project. There was a single a few months ago which didn't make much sense at the time and we thought, well, we liked her in her first incarnation, we liked her again in her second incarnation, the third one that didn't come out didn't really appeal and this new one seems a bit weird, so maybe after ten years it's time to give this act a swerve. But when you like an artist you'll always give them one more chance, so when she put out the second single a month or so ago, we gave it a click anyway, and it was brilliant. Now, in the context of the whole album, that first song we didn't really understand makes complete sense.
Don't expect to see this album in the midweek Top 10 tomorrow. But do expect to see people talking about it over the coming months, and do expect to fall in love with it yourself. People will, eventually, go properly mental for this album. Reviews have been great so far. The album will still be picking up fans a year from now. It feels like an important album but, most importantly, it's just really great to listen to.
It's called 'Samson & Delilah', it's by V V Brown, it's £7.99 and you can buy it here.