Paloma Faith - Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?
You can almost imagine the groans that reverberated round the record company offices when Paloma Faith appeared on their radar. ‘An English singer-songwriter with soul influences?’ Isn’t that just Amy Winehouse version two? ‘No, but wait, she has a unique voice that marks her out from the overcrowded genre of singer-songwriters.’ Oh, so now she’s Duffy? ‘Oh but she also has a unique fashion sense and hair style harking back to the sixties’. So she’s basically the bastard child of Amy Winehouse and Lady GaGa?
In essence all of these things are true - although the Lady GaGa comparison is iffy at best given it comes from the bastion of journalistic integrity that is Sugar magazine - and yet completely wrong; Paloma Faith is both an amalgamation of these things and manages to transcend them at the same time. If variety is indeed the spice of life, her debut effort is a Scotch Bonnet pepper in album form.
From the retro-pop charm of her debut single 'Stone Cold Sober' and the upbeat jazz of 'Upside Down' to the mellow soul of 'My Legs Are Weak' and the power balladry of 'Play On', there is something for everyone to enjoy on this album. While that may be a cliché, often given to albums where the artist is still struggling to find their voice and are just content to cast their net wide to grab as many listeners as they can, one gets the impression that Paloma knows exactly what she is doing. With her background in acting and her past career as a magician’s assistant, it’s clear that she knows how to put on a show. The constant contrasts in genre throughout the album is as close to a musical theatre show on CD as you'll get (from upbeat beginning through melancholy middle act to triumphant finale) without buying the official Wicked soundtrack.
But this musical spectacle wouldn’t work if it was just her backing band that were on form creating the different styles, even though they more than hold their own on 'New York' delivering a finale that sounds more epic than it has any right to be; it requires Paloma to deliver on two accounts: her voice and song writing talent - and she undoubtedly succeeds on both counts. Much has been made of the uniqueness of Paloma’s voice, with its distinct inflections and quirky style, but the real talent lies in her ability to portray the emotions of the story through it. She’s as believable as the bold, confident protagonist of 'Smoke & Mirrors' telling her lover that “Now we’re through / The show is over / The audience is walking out the room”, as she is as the weak, submissive 'Broken Doll' when she asks for someone to “Take control for me and wipe away my fears / Piece me all together / Though broken I am sweet”.
Again though, the emotive qualities of her voice are only effective when ably supported by strong song writing and Paloma doesn’t disappoint on this basis either. She injects humour into 'Romance Is Dead' which acts as a guide for any possible mistakes that can be made in a relationship – “I asked you for a letter / So you emailed”, “And now I’m carrying my own bags up / Seventeen flights of stairs” – making it not just a great track but also required listening for any man out there wondering just what he did wrong. She is also as strong at being anguished and heartbroken as she is at being playful, and this is showcased on the stand out ballad of the album 'My Legs Are Weak' – “Woke up this morning and hoped for a dream / But reality sat next to me and forced me to believe”.
If there are to be any criticisms of the album, it’s that this show only lasts just over 37 minutes and for that to be a criticism, given that it’s an otherwise average album length, is perhaps a sign of its own success. This is compounded by the fact that two of the tracks seem to go on for bit longer than is necessary; the two offenders being the otherwise stunning title track and 'Stargazer', which is also the weakest effort on the album but which still won’t have you reaching for the skip button other than in its extended outro. However, for anyone believing this means that she may be limited to three minute pop tracks, any such beliefs are disbanded with one listen of the incredible, full band orchestral ending of 'My Legs Are Weak'.
Naming the album the way she did was a bold statement for Paloma Faith, given its possibility for some smart-alec critic to respond with a remark of something along the lines of ‘I’ll give you the truth and it isn’t beautiful’. However the real truth is that this album rarely falls below anything other than special. And get ready for another bold statement: Paloma Faith’s debut effort is not only one of the strongest albums of the year, but one of the strongest debuts since a certain beehived singer staggered out into the limelight. Let's just hope she can cope better with all the attention she'll undoubtedly be receiving.