The last time I wrote about Corinne Bailey Rae was five years ago, and it was from a position of rank loathing. Not for Rae herself, she seemed quite pleasant and an accomplished musician, but for her typeface. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
“…don’t you just hate it too? Surely you must. The infantilism implicit in those apparently doodled letters, with their preschool filled-in holes that scream ‘Look at me! Look at me! I am pure, I am unsullied by adult cynicism and self-consciousness to such a degree that I can fill the holes in my letters like a retard and make you love me as a sexualised child artist!” Christ I haaaaate iiiiit! Aaaaaaargh! And when I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and picked up her album in Sainsbury’s, the first thing I saw when I opened the CD case was a postcard directing me to ‘check out the Corinne Bailey Rae WAP shop’ Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! By all that’s holy just let this woman make music EMI!”
And thank God they did. Her second album ‘The Sea’ was released yesterday and it is an absolute pearl.
Here’s the new typeface, and it screams mature ’seventies soul just as much as the original dribbled drippy folk. It’s Marvin Gaye, it’s Isaac Hayes, it’s Angie Stone. It’s sweeping strings and walking basslines, Hammond organ and crystalline synths, and Bailey Rae delivers it all plus a hitherto hidden slinky side, as on this, the album’s funkiest track, ’Closer’:
That song literally stopped me in my tracks on the long walk home, but it’s still not indicative of the album as a whole. The tempo is generally slower & more seductive, the beat heavier & more oppressive, the vocal arrangements still intimate but often building to choral crescendos, and melodically she’s developed a knack for major to minor shifts that borders on the masterful.
The catalyst for this musical transformation has obviously been the death of Bailey Rae’s husband after an accidental overdose. Most of these songs were recorded in the aftermath of that tragedy and yet, while grief and/or regret are prevalent themes, they never overwhelm the music. They ripple over it, like water over a weir, enhancing rather than diluting the purity and positivity of Bailey Rae’s voice.
There’s more than a little Jeff Buckley in ’The Sea’, not least in the recurring water motif, and it’s a bit too obvious in the way ‘I Would Like To Call It Beauty’ semi-clones the opening minute of ‘Lover You Should’ve Come Over.” But that can’t dim Bailey Rae’s total triumph. In letting her true voice sing through her sorrow, she has released something truly beautiful.
Seek out ‘The Sea’. It’s going to this year’s credible dinner party CD, but it deserves to be a lot more.