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Katie Melua...ahhhh, that girl with the warble who likes to count the number of various modes of transport, in foreign climates...ah the joys of metaphorical lyrical creations (of course, I'm referring to one of her biggest hits '9 million bicycles (in Beijing)' (released in 2005). How clever she is to do all that counting. One of the ever growing number of Brit school graduates (along with fellow pupils Kate Nash, Amy Winehouse and Leona Lewis to name a few), this singer/songwriter is a force to be reckoned with, gaining a massive fan base after only 5 years and three albums in the industry.
Who is she?
Full name Ketevan and of Georgian (Russian) decent, she first hit our musical realms in 2003, at the tender age of 19, with her debut hit album 'Call Off The Search'. She has since released 2 more albums. 'Piece by Piece' which has gone 4 times platinum and in October 2007, she released 'Pictures'. Amongst other high profile media outings, Melua took part in BandAid20 for the 'new' (and somewhat controversial) version of 'Do They Know It's Christmas Time' and has also been associated with numerous charity events, including Nelson Mandela's charity concerts and a goodwill ambassador for 'Save The Children'. Anyway...enough background...on with the album.
1. "Mary Pickford (Used to Eat Roses)" - 3:12
2. "All in My Head" - 4:03
3. "If the Lights Go Out" - 3:14
4. "What I Miss About You" - 3:48
5. "Spellbound" - 3:00
6. "What It Says on the Tin" - 3:44
7. "Scary Films" - 4:02
8. "Perfect Circle" - 4:01
9. "Ghost Town" - 3:31
10. "If You Were a Sailboat" - 4:02
11. "Dirty Dice" - 3:39
12. "In My Secret Life" - 4:23
What do I think?:
With an album at just under 45 minutes, one has to ask the question, am I really getting value for money...and well...with the inclusion of some good tracks, yes you are, however, I would want more good tracks to justify the expense of the CD. But having gone 2 times platinum, it's definitely worth a listen...
The first track 'Mary Pickford' (2nd single, released in November 2007) is rather strange sounding at first, but on a few listens, the beauty can be appreciated more, I feel. This song is about Mary Pickford, the 1910s film actress. There is a real folky feel here, the sort of music you would want to play in the background as you spend a lazy Sunday, relaxing in a nice bath with a nice glass of red wine. As the album progresses, more instruments are introduced, with the inclusion, for example of the electric guitar, however, it is still used a mellow and laid back tone. This is followed by the sadly forgettable 'All In My Head'.
One of my favourite tracks is the third 'If The Lights Go Out' (her 3rd single from this album, released in February 2008). Whilst Melua has a very distinctive tonal voice quality, that can induce the ability of one to switch off from whatever you're doing, this song also has a more uptempo feel to it, that is definitely more radio friendly and has a more 'singalong-ability'. The lyrics are simple, yet have a hint of profundity that is undeniable:
Well I'm gonna try for all I'm worth,
To stay with you till the end of the earth.
Don't let me down,
Don't let your feelings win.
Don't give out, and don't give in,
Don't think about tomorrow.
Ok, well maybe not THAT profound, but definitely a lot stronger than 'baby baby baby, I love you yeah yeah yeah'. That's something I have grown accustomed to in her songs. She may not have the best lyrics in the world, but they do certainly have levels that one can admire or simple pass over. If you prefer more melancholy sounding songs that can let you ponder life, then you may prefer 'What I Miss About You' (4th single, to be released this month). There is something certainly haunting, from the delivery of this lovely song. We hear Melua, possibly at her best here, as she finds her way through the melody with absolute commitment to the sentiment of the song. She muses about the small things that she misses about her lover - like how he soaks himself in his over-priced cologne (!) Musically 'Spellbound' lifts the mood somewhat, then 'What It Says On The Tin' brings us back down into the pensive state of mild melancholy as we sit back and pour our second glass of vino and let her vocal wash through.
I find something rather strange about the 7th track, entitled 'Scary Film', one can almost imagine how this should sound...perhaps slightly uptempo with a few strange and unusual musical noises here and there...well yes, that's what we get. It's at this point the album takes a slight twist of style. This takes us nicely into the almost country sounding 'Perfect Circle'. Melua has one of those voices that no matter if the genre she is singing isn't to your tastes, her voice and approach to the song allows you find a comfortable place to listen to it. I hate country music, and whilst this song isn't pure 'country' by any means, normally I would hate this track, but there's something almost hypnotic in her voice that makes me listen and indeed, want to listen.
As we reach the end of the album, we get to the almost ska tainted song 'Ghost Town'. This is not one of my favourites, there's an annoying rift in the background that reminds me of early 80s reggae songs that I hated back then, and still do. This is the one to skip on the album. The 10th track 'If You We A Sailboat' (the 1st single from this album, released in November 2007) certainly is a lot better than the previous...and once more, we have Melua at her metaphoric best singing about how if her lover was a sailboat she would...if he was a cowboy she would...a piece of wood she would...you get the idea. The song reads as a monotonous list. If you know any kids doing their SATS or GCSEs they may be able to nab a few examples of her similes here...nice to know this song is good for something. The mexican sounding 'Dirty Dice' and the paceless 'In My Secret Life' close the album.
So what have we learnt today? Well...whilst her lyrics and song titles can appear somewhat odd and off the cuff, there is no escaping the way that this album can change your mood and put you in spirits for relaxation. I'm not a huge fan of this album, a lot of it is samey samey, but I do admit that it is one of those albums that you can put on and chill out to, or perhaps at a dinner party in the background.
As her song title says 'what it says on tin', this tin/album says 'Katie Melau' and that says to me, nice album, but no massive leaps of musical genius. It's just...nice.
The album can be brought from all good music outlets and you should be able to buy for around 9GBP.
For more information check out her website: www.katiemelua.com
Thanks for reading
© MarcoG 2008
(also on ciao)
A farcry from the stereotype I may have had thrust upon myself through my previous album reviews, it wouldn't be entirely unfair to say a verdict from myself on a Katie Melua album isn't going to be as generous as I have to a cast of R&B artists. On the other hand, Katie Melua does not fall under my scrutiny in the same way artists who disappoint with their follow-up albums do, and if you think my discussion of an artist like Melua is going to be anything similar to that of the diva that is Mariah Carey -- you would be wrong. When I hear the name Katie Melua I do automatically come to a conclusion in my head that is usually correct, but she is a name that makes me turn to someone and ask, "She is the soul singer that sang 'Closest Thing to Crazy', right?" ..Or perhaps I say that in my own little world of terminology. Not chav.
So I think we've came to the conclusion that my review of Katie Melua's third studio album, 'Pictures', is well out of my comfort zone. This doesn't mean that I cannot try and disregard my usual taste of music to give a fair representation of what the jazz turned contemporary fans would think of this effort. Afterall, a few catchy hooks here and there have given Melua a wide audiance for her music. Even my dad has came in from work at 5pm singing to himself the slightly incorrect lyrics to Melua's largest worldwide hit to date, 'Nine Million Bicycles'.
Whilst Melua's strict appeal has not exactly generated her huge single chart success, she falls into the catagorey of people that prefer music for its unreleased credits -- the album purchasers, who pride themselves on loving snigles before they even hit iTunes. This means that her first two albums both charted at the top of the UK top 40 ('Call off the Search' and 'Piece by Piece'). 'Pictures' would apparently be the completed image of that search for the pieces, however sales did not give a completed impression as it became Melua's worst charting album to date, although I doubt she splits few hairs over the album charting in second place. Ketevan, "Katie", is a mix of Georgian and British origins however this has not been too much of a disadvantage for her to get material released in the larger challenge of the 'States. Melua's debut managed to top jazz album charts in the US, however this only corresponds to the high-hundreds in the actual Billboard lineup. Age has not done Katie Melua any favours, as although she began her career as a teenager, the now 23 year-old artist was not critically acclaimed for her work on 'Pictures' -- Virgin Media described the project as having dreaful lyrics that are an embarrassment to sing. Her most successful single to date has been the collaboration with Eva Cassidy on the charity single cover of, 'A Wonderful World'. Seemingly people are more interested in Melua's smooth vocals than her originality.
01, Mary Pickford (Used to Eat Roses) (3.12), 2*
02, All in My Head (4.03), 3*
Probably the least sensible album to listen to when you're on a late night reviewing session and still feeling the affects from a late night out the week before. You do not get any fancy or comical intro here, and you are given a fully fledged intro-song, although it does give you a lighthearted feeling with it sounding more like 'Mary Littlelamb' than 'Pickford'. Whilst this probably is the most bubbly moment on the entire length of the album, this is what the whole of 'Pictures' is going to be about. The premise for the track is actually based on the 1910 actress Mary Pickford and her relationship with other artists from her time.
03, If the Lights Go Out (3.14), 2*
04, What I Miss About You (3.48), 2*
'Lights Go Out' has a rock and roll edge to it, and for Melua's more mature fanbase this will probably be a bridge too far, or after a few glasses on the wine you may find yourself dancing side to side. In my honest, if I ever saw someone trying to dance to Melua's music I would have to trip them right up as it is just not something you should do. 'What I Miss About You' is as you would expect a song relating to the end of a relationship -- it's funny though, I always had the appeal of soul music being down to the lyrics, but as Melua has most of her tracks written by a strong management team behind her. I guess this review is becoming more insightful than I expected it to be to me.
05, Speedbound (3.00), 3*
06, What It Says on the Tin (3.44), 2*
07, Scary Films (4.02), 3*
08, Perfect Circle (4.01), 2*
'Spellbound' doesn't exactly captiviate you in a spell as much as you would expect the title to do so, although this is around the point that you get the best of a bad bunch. This centre to the album is soft and easy listening, you will forget you have the album playing and most of the tracks are likely to run into one. 'Scary Films' is another track that strongly links itself to the concept of the album being cinematography orientated.
09, Ghost Town (3.31), 2*
10, If You Were a Sailboat (4.02), 2*
If you know one album off this album it is supposed to be 'Sailboat', but all the tracks off this album have sounded new to me, which is a surprise considering this album has been on release since October 2007. 'If You Were' is a pretty nice effort, but as the track falls into the samey trap as every other before it, I don't feel it deserves any large amount of praise. I'm glad people care enough to say everything on Leona Lewis' album sounded the same, because clearly there was no one that really mattered to admit that about 'Pictures'.
11, Dirty Dice (3.39), 2*
12, In My Secret Life (4.23), 3*
As a resident of Cambridge with some strangely unattractive tourist attractions I feel I am probably letting down my city by admitting I absolutely can't stand this style of music, and whilst I have tried my damnest to stay impartial on this review I feel there have probably been hints off myself not being a fan that is never going to be convinced. I guess I must be more suburb than university when it comes down to the Cambridge message. Every track probably deserves one star or less in my true opinion, and 'Dirty Dice' sounding slightly Mexican doesn't do it anything. 'Secret Life' is a make or break note to end the album on, and if you have liked Melua before you will probably find it a sweet note to end on -- if you're like me, you will be so incredibly thankful that this 'Picture' is over.
About Katie Melua
Katie Melua is a Georgia-born singer songwriter, in 2003 while she was still studying at the Brit School of Performing Arts in Surrey, Katie was discovered at just 18. 4 years later, she is still going strong as is a huge household name having sold more than 7.5 million albums and in 2006 becoming the years best selling British female in the world. Katie's first album Piece by Piece was released in 2005. Katie has had several UK number one tracks, with many others being top 10. Katie was awarded the Golden Camera Award for International Pop Artist at the start of 2007 and Katie was presented with the Echo Award for International Female Artist in March 2007. In 2008, Katie plans to do a world tour.
Pictures is Katie Melua's third album and was released in October 2007 and didn't seem to get as much hype as Katie's previous albums such as Piece by Piece and Call Off The Search. Pictures was produced by Mike Batt and Vanessa Mae plays throughout some of the songs. There aren't really any similar songs on this album to Katie's previous ones. In Katie's previous albums, most of her songs have consisted of strange lyrics and there may still be instances when things just don't seem to make much sense at all in this new album too. Although Katie still has her trademark melting lullaby voice and sticks to her jazzy songs, non of the songs on this are particularly memorable as previously they have been. Pictures is a collection of timeless jazz influenced pop ballads ensuring Katie remains different and unique and doesn't fall into the standard chart category of the same sounding unemotional singers. Throughout all of Katie's songs that are full of emotion, something that is definately lacking in other singers of her time but there is still nothing as meaningful as songs from Piece by Piece. Katie has definately matured since she first began and in many songs she sounds older and genuinely soulful. Although only 23, Katie Melua makes music for adults and for the more sophisticated ear.
A good opening song. Quite a slow song, where the guitar playing comes out over the singer. The only music is Katie playing her guitar and her singing, so it sounds more like a singer in a pub, but as it gets into it, a few background beats are added in, making it more catchy and fun and Katie gets more into the song. The song has some strange lyrics and is about a couple that got married and the marriage hasn't lasted. Overall an average song.
2.It's All In My Head
Again, starts off quite similar to Mary Pickford. A well structured song all round. A soft light voice from Katie at the beginning but then you start to feel Katie feeling the song more and her emotions coming out through her voice. I think this song has some good guitar solos as it gets more into it.
3.If The Light's Go Out
Katie gets into the song quite quickly here, it is much more upbeat than the previous two songs. A song she really seems to enjoy. This is probably the most mainstream and commercial sounding upbeat pop song on the album. On average quite an upbeat and fun song, but I do find Katie lingers on too long onto some words but I would say this is one of my favourite songs on the album.
4.What I Miss About You
A meaningful song, although it is a slow song, Katie's voice really shines through and is strong throughout. It is gentle with some great lyrics that if you listen closely are probably very meaningful to Katie herself.
The only song entirely written by Katie and is one of the most promising. A well structured song. Quite an upbeat song, but still quite relaxing. The chorus is strong and distinctly sticks out, where on some other songs, you can't work out what is the chorus. This is one of the songs that sticks in my head over alot of the others.
6.What It Say's On The Tin
Sounds more like Katie's older songs, especially with her style of voice in this and the soft jazzy tones throughout. This songs concentrates more on Katie's voice than the singing, with the quiet background sounds of violins, apart from in the middle where there is about 30 seconds of just the instruments having a solo.
I think this is one of my favourite tracks, theres a good beat to it and although it is still slow, it is faster than the other songs. Katie manages to sing about a wife murdering a husband with a knife and about horror films - but somehow unless you really listen it doesn't seem like she's singing about this. I enjoyed this song, but if you are a Katie Melua fan, you probably won't enjoy this and will just move onto the next song.
Again, this song seems a bit more like traditional Katie. Another good track on the album, with a subtle beat concentrating more on Katie's voice again.
The beginning of this reminds me of reggae style music, I though we were going to go into "Red, Red Wine"! It seems like this is just to add interest to a boring song. The beat is constant through out the song and it seems Katie struggles a bit to sing with the music, as it doesn't seem like her usual style. Certainly one of the weaker songs on the album.
10.If I Were A Sailboat
I was quite shocked that out of all the songs on the album this is the one that Katie chose to release. Although Katie has a strong voice throughout, overall this is quite a boring song, I think Katie emphasies her voice in the wrong place in the chorus of the song.
There is definately a spanish theme throughout this song, it seems like a good song to dance to. It feels exotic and a salsa song. Futher in the song, it gets quite jazzy, when there is a solo from the instruments before Katie kicks back into it again. This probably has more background music than any of the other songs, adding to the excitment of this song.
12.In My Secret Life
Another strong song, it seems as you listen through the album, Katie's voice gets stronger and sounds more meaningful. After listening a few times, I got to really like this song. This definately sounds like the last song on the album, so much more effort has gone into it and Katie gets herself so into it. It's like when you go to a concert, the last song is always the best, as they want lasting impressions on you.
Price & Availability
Pictures can be purchased from Amazon.com for £11.48, from Amazon Marketplace from £5.49 and from Play.com for £8.95. It is available from all music stores, such as HMV etc and you will be looking to pay around £10 for it.
Overall, for an individual artists album thesedays there are quite a few tracks on the album, which is comendible to Katie. If you expected this album to build on the two previous albums though and to be a showcase of catchy lyrics as traditional for Katie, you may be slightly disappointed. There are some different and still strange lyrics but nothing that is memorable like 'Nine Million Bicycles in Bejiing'. It isn't as good as her previous albums, alot of the songs on this are weaker and I wouldn't say any of the songs on this album are catchy and that you would particularly remember them. Saying that, if you are a big Katie Melua fan, I think you will still enjoy this album but yes, be a little dissappointed but is still something you would enjoy. If this had been the first album, it seems unlikely Katie Melua would now be a household name. I think this would be a good album to listen to when just relaxing after a hard days work, with a nice glass of wine. Alot of the songs are quite slow and soothing. I think it would also be good background music to have at a dinner party, but I don't feel this album is good enough to be anything but something like this. I would get bored listening to this in my car, where I have nothing else to do. Although the album is quite weak, I cannot deny that Katie is an amazing singer with a different and strong voice, but I think that has grown on people now and it's not so different anymore. Alot of the songs on the album concentrate more on Katie's voice rather than the music behind the song, but as Katie's voice is so strong, she passes this off as she doesn't need the music - her voice is all you need.
After not being keen on her last album quite so much (piece by piece) which I felt was slightly lacking after her amazing debut, I can honestly say that with this latest offering, Katie is right back on form again with Pictures- her difficult third album.
Right from the beginning, the album starts off well with the upbeat, poppy and indeed quirky "Mary Pickford" which not only had me singing away in the car but humming the words and tune in my head for days. To be fair, I have only the vaguest idea of what it is about (the romance shared between Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks and their marriage to which Charlie Chaplin was invited seems to make up the main crux of the lyrics) but even if you don't know your hollywood history, the song is still a very catchy little number with some truly humourous lines ("he had a moustache, must have had much cash too...") and a great opening song.
Next up comes "All in my head" about we can only presume is Katie's imaginary lover and the man she secretly longs to be with but ultimately can never have quickly followed by the next catchy little number "If the lights go out" which proves to be another of Katie's trademark quirky tunes. This next clever song reveals Miss Melua's reluctance to listen to disaster theories about the end of the world but promises that if the worst should happen, she can think of no better place to be than in her sweetheart's arms.
"What I miss about you" is the next number and is another great Melua classic that stands out but both "Spellbound" and "What it says on the tin" that follow for me run a little bit hot and cold. In fact there are three or four songs that don't quite cut it for me on here (the last two tracks spring to mind here instantly) but with "Ghost town", "Scary films" and the truly unforgettable recently released single "If you were a sailboat" with probably the strangest but most brilliant lyrics that I have heard in ages, easily on a par with "The closest thing to crazy" from her first album, "Pictures" more than makes up for any of the slightly weaker tracks it features. Even the weaker tracks are still far superior to anything penned by her competitors and this is an album I am sure I will be listening to for weeks if not months to come.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Mary Pickford (Used To Eat Roses)
2 All In My Head
3 If The Lights Go Out
4 What I Miss About You
6 What It Says On The Tin
7 Scary Films
8 Perfect Circle
9 Ghost Town
10 If You Were A Sailboat
11 Dirty Dice
12 In My Secret Life