Corinne Bailey Rae, "The Heart Speaks in Whispers" Album Review
-...A tasteful release that rejuvenates faith among us about this slow-dying breed of creative minds.
It's been exactly 10 years since her sweet and soothing voice cheerfully empowered the world of music, with the use of music, in the self-loving anthem "Put Your Records on". Ten years blow by so fast and rapidly like Northern winter winds; time serves as the mother of growth for the youthful, yet clock ticks are as well the catalysts of endurance and recovery for the mindful. In 10 years' time, pain and sorrow have torched every individual on the face of the earth, including the artist who lost her husband 2 years after her debut album. It's never been the job of an artist to draw inspiration from their agony and struggles, but it normally is what turns out to be the point of excellence during an artist's career when they do find the delightful magic in the tears they've wept. When Marvin was at his lowest point of not only his life but also his career, Here, My Dear was his answer to both his realistic financial downfalls and his emotional troubles, and although the 1978 album turned out to be a commercial failure and usual afterthought to Gaye's 2 "...On" albums when we're discussing the legend's importance, Here, My Dear is what exhibited the artist's immense creative prowess and established his incomparable status as a songwriter.
Let me put it this way: Corinne Bailey Rae, the British R&B/soul songstress and guitar player, is a master--MASTER--songwriter. Music fans like myself who write the occasional tune, usually experience the "that's cool, but I think I can do it, too" moment when hearing a project with a focus on melodic ideas, but always pause the record and go, "oh shit, somebody actually WROTE that, but HOW?". I experienced this as Rae's creations on The Heart Speaks in Whisper kept me gasping throughout the entire album. The unbelievable production value of the album is even overshadowed by the songfulness of the tracks. It is impossible not to see her muse floating in front of your eyes as if her genius, the superior artistry of hers inspired by the challenges she'd endured, is visible. With that being said, The Heart Speaks in Whisper is an stunningly ambitious project of elegance and mind-blowingness with a slightly disappointing lack of cohesiveness that unfortunately concluded half an hour too late. While every song is an experience that was initially thrilling, only a few achieve a high level of memorability because, well, simply, there were too many songs squeezed in this track list.
The first 3 songs are extraordinary tracks that each represent a separate focus of the album. "The Skies Will Break" is a coldplay-esque poppy product driven by a repetitive piano leitmotif and a pure, single-string acoustic guitar strum with a song-alongibility and heavy mainstream EDM influence, a track that showcases Rae's signature sweet tone in combination with public appeal. "Hey, I Won't Break Your Heart" is the good ol' acoustic songwriting queen at work on a ballad in 6/8 time signature, effectively in touch with her soft jazz origin and moving melody, all the while not sacrificing dynamic as the song breaks out with energy and passion during the climax of the track. "Been to the Moon" is the leading single and my personal favorite off the album, an eccentric and futuristic arrangement with an original structure and a soul-twitching chord progression, as Corinne roars casually with the kind of vocal rawness that resemble the Queen of Neo-Soul or the Electric Lady. This track thus represents the heavy influence of soul and funk in Rae's writing and her liking of uniqueness and obscenity.
One can say that the opening of the album is epic and memorable. The album then carries on with the 3 aforementioned themes, with them purposely arranged sparsely throughout. A few highlights present themselves as we journey on. "Green Aphrodisiac" is a spiritual and seductive joint reminiscent of "A.D. 2000" courtesy of Badu. "Horse Print Dress" starts off a fast-paced, low-key soul track that surprisingly transforms into a intricate chorus that seems like a funky tribute to these guys. "Do You Ever Think of Me?", another one of my favorites, sounds like an India.Arie cameo with its easy rimshots, bright piano and layering of electric and acoustic guitar, and more importantly, a hook with a delightfully complex rhythm structure, as Rae tenderly laments her one-sided memory of a loved one and futile nostalgia, the texture of her voice mellow yet passionate.
I took a break at this point when listening to this album for the first time, after having my mind blown away by the first half of the project, and I couldn't wait to hear the rest of the album. Yet the irony resides in the fact that all the further highlights I needed at this point was a compelling conclusion, not 8 more songs, almost all of which span over 5 minutes. And the failure to wrap up when it's good and leave the listeners longing for more proves to be the project's downfall. The tracks that follow what I consider a high point of the album come off as superfluous and fail to make deep impressions, not because they're not nicely crafted products but rather because they're simply not as memorable as the first half of the album, which in itself alone could've gone down as one of the finest musical moments of the competitive year of 2016. "Caramel" and "Night" are two songs that stunningly surround us in mystic and graceful ambients, which is undoubtedly...nice, but nothing we didn't hear in "Green Aphrodisiac". "Taken by Dreams" and "Ice Cream Colours" are subpar pop creations obviously with the intention to cater to the liking of the general public but somehow backfire for being distracting and forgettably dull, as well as uncharacteristic of Rae herself. "In the Dark" is possibly my least favorite track off the album, being the mildly well-written concept that sadly incorporates a bizarre and unrelatable breakdown mid-track that was probably initially meant as the climax of the song but instead turns into an unpleasant, passionless and chaotically mixed moment that resembles an accidental bad trip. Over this disappointing stretch, fortunately, we were blessed with a neo-soul-inspired, swingy, socially conscious soul product in "Walk on", a minimalistic funk track resembling 70's Curtis Mayfield's psychedelic rawness.
Luckily, Corinne Bailey Rae came out of her swamp in the two ending tracks. "High" is smooth but emotional melodic journey that originates from the Rae's consistent signature songfulness. Nothing is done too much in this song--just gentle taps on the keys and subtle organs and mechanic syncopation, featuring slight gospelness towards the end as the song comes to a dynamic and painful moment. Rae's lone vocals bring enough texture to establish a deep spiritual foundation for the song, while the sentimental chorus brings a relatedness that almost leads to tearful empathy in its listeners. "Push On for the Dawn", another acoustic-guitar-driven track, is a brighter and hopeful tone that wraps up the album at its most positive and lifted minute. Corinne Bailey Rae is in a league of her own when it comes to expanding on motivational themes, as she is one of the very few artists who can write a self-love anthem about hope and bright futures without sounding cheesy in the least bit. Her voice is one of those magical voices that just can never be associated with mainstream cheesiness, and her writing abilities along supply an endless amount of edge to her musical presence. "Push On for the Dawn" provides the sweet and confident conclusion to an otherwise doubtful and melancholy album, where she tells her multiple tales of heartaches but comes around to advocate for a better future of adjustment and elatedness, ending with a three-minute free-flowing, atmospheric and soothing instrumental exhibition that tenderly places the listener in a meditational state where nothing seems to matter, and the only thing that makes sense is the being itself.
The Heart Speaks in Whispers is a statement made by the obstacle-overcoming Corinne Bailey Rae that screams artistic excellence and maturity. An superior musician and creator, Corinne Bailey Rae is anything but one-dimensional in this project and proves that she is a rare talent. While this album has its flaws, especially in its prolonged track list and from-time-to-time digression and lack of energy, The Heart Speaks in Whispers is a very nicely-done album that will likely be nominated for and win multiple awards come 2017. Rae displays focused versatility and showcased a phenomenal kind of resilience in her music, and more importantly, she is a songwriter on a very elite level, and the album's high production value maintains a minimalistic approach and does very little to jeopardize her raw writing. In a year where we've been hearing very disappointing news about fellow or precedent female soul artists, The Heart Speaks in Whispers is a tasteful release that rejuvenates faith among us about this slow-dying breed of creative minds.