When Sandi Thom released her debut album "Smile...it Confuses People" in 2006, I felt it was good enough to be worth a listen, even allowing for all the hype that had surrounded it. I did think, however, that the real test would be the second album, to see how good it is when all the hype and the associated pressure were gone.
So here we are with that second album, "The Pink & The Lily". Early signs are not promising, as I'd pretty much forgotten all about her in the interim period. It seems that I was not the only one, as her debut single from the new album only charted at No 58. That's 3 places lower than the initial 2005 release of "I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker" achieved before anyone had heard of her and before the hype surrounding Thom really got going and the album itself has only reached a high of No 25 in the charts, as opposed to the chart topping success of her debut.
The reason for this is not immediately obvious in "The Devil's Beat"; the opening track and the lead single from the album. Whilst perhaps lacking the immediate catchiness of her earlier work, it's a bouncy enough pop tune, with the addition of an orchestra which actually makes it a fuller and more rounded track than her earlier work.
The intro to "Shape I'm In" sounds like it's been taken directly from a Pink song, although this only lasts as long as the introduction, which is a bit of a disappointment. This is a simpler song, lacking the orchestration of the opening track, but it's still a decent enough up-tempo pop song, although it does sound weak by comparison with "The Devil's Beat".
I felt that the slower songs were the weak link on Thom's debut, but the first here suggests better from them this time around. "Wounded Hearts" isn't the best example of the art, but it's a pretty decent pop ballad and the return of the orchestration makes it sound a lot stronger than much of her first album and, indeed, the previous track.
"Saturday Night" shows Sandi Thom at her best, being a jaunty pop tune with a slight folk tinge that's bound to get the foot tapping and which works perfectly as a song to listen to on the move, which is how I frequently listen to music. Anyone who enjoyed her debut album will really enjoy this one and it is supposedly earmarked to be the second single from the album, which will prove if anyone still remembers and likes her from the first time around. For someone like me, who both remembers her earlier sound and largely enjoyed it, this is one of my favourites from the album.
The pace drops once more for "Beatbox" which is another pop influenced ballad, largely run through with little more than an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. It's perhaps not quite as strong a song musically as "Wounded Hearts", but it's a better song lyrically which, for me, makes it a better listen.
It's back to what Thom does best next again, though, with "Remote Control Me". Once again, this is a simply performed folk tinged pop song, with a quite soulful backing vocal arrangement. It's an upbeat bouncy song and it's very difficult not to tap my feet along with this one, which would probably look very strange as I'm walking down the road listening to the album. There is a bit of lyrical naffness towards the end, but it's such a fun song, it's easy to overlook this.
Whilst not being the best song on the album, "Success's Ladder" is almost certainly the best story. The simple vocal start reminds me of Thom's breakthrough hit "I Wish I Was a Punkrocker", although the song this time around is a lot more stripped down and at a slower pace. However, it is a very enjoyable folk song with a pop influence that I always enjoy as much for the music as for the lyric.
Unfortunately, after a couple of songs that show the best of Sandi Thom, "Mirrors" seems to take that which is worst about her and puts it all together in one song. It's another ballad, but doesn't quite manage the interest of the earlier ones and just comes out like a pop dirge. The lyrics are weak at best and her vocal seems to be straining to be as high as it wants to be. The ballads on her debut album were the weaker tracks and this is definitely the weakest track here, both musically and lyrically. On the plus side, you reach the end of the song confident that the next one will be better.
Unfortunately, "Music in my Soul" isn't quite as much better as I'd hoped it would be. It's a nice mid paced pop-folk number with a very middle of the road sound to it. Unfortunately, the chorus has a high pitched vocal which again seems to be straining her voice and the song doesn't really go anywhere. But as it's a song that didn't have a tough act to follow, it doesn't seem quite so bad in context, although when played in isolation, it does come across as quite a weak and boring track.
By contrast, "The Pink & The Lily" is a wonderfully well rounded tune. It's another mid paced pop song with a folk twist, but despite using more or less the same ingredients as the previous track, it all seems to have come together a lot better. The vocals are more restrained and the sound is a lot stronger. Admittedly, it's not the best song lyrically, but it's better than the couple that have preceded it.
"I'm a Human Being" is a quirky little song, being quite a simple pop song both lyrically and musically, but with a quite catchy beat to it. It's not quite as bouncy or as good as some of the earlier tracks on the album, but it's decent enough.
The high opening vocal to "The Last Picturehouse" made me worry that it would be a struggle like some of the earlier ones, but once the song settles down, it's just a simple enough pop song. As with the previous track and several on her debut album, Thom enjoys taking inspiration from the past with her lyrics, although she's looking more at cinema instead of her usual musical references here. It's kind of a sad song, but well written and performed, especially towards the end where it becomes a more expansive song musically and closes quite impressively.
Sadly, the album closer isn't quite so impressive, despite having a similar musical influence. "My Ungrateful Heart" is a straight pop ballad that's quite simple, both lyrically and musically. It's not as dirge like as "Mirrors" and not as tough to listen to vocally, but it is a rather weak pop ballad and a disappointing end to the album.
Amusingly, on the album cover Thom imitates the pose used by KT Tunstall on the cover of her "Drastic Fantastic" album. Despite both artists being from Scotland and having their debut albums out at the same time, this is where the comparison ends and maybe provides a warning for future generations of pop star. KT Tunstall, who followed a more traditional route to musical fame still has the support of her record company for her second album and is doing well. Sandi Thom, however, who shot to fame thanks to MySpace and had a hit album on the back of an over hyped release has now been largely forgotten by both public and record label alike.
This is a bit of a shame, as whilst the support has gone, this isn't too bad an album, really. Lyrically and musically, it is a more mature performance than her debut and whilst it lacks a lot of the jauntiness and the sheer fun of her debut, there are still some decent Sandi Thom moments here. She's not moved on, but she's not moved backwards and it's pretty safe to say that anyone who enjoyed her debut album "Smile...it Confuses People" will also enjoy this one.
Unfortunately, that album, whilst fun, wasn't memorable enough to keep either us or RCA Records interested and it seems likely that this will be her second and final release unless something happens. Whilst she's not the best artist around, she doesn't really deserve to go out on the back of being completely neglected by a record label, although that does seem to be the way they work. Sadly, without the hype, Thom is just another musician and she's not really good enough to make it, as she doesn't stand out in any way to make her worth remembering or supporting.
If Thom's debut album annoyed you, as it did with so many people, this is more of the same and you won't enjoy it. If you enjoyed the simplicity and the fun of that album and could get over the hype to the music, you may well have enjoyed that and you'll enjoy this, as I did. It may be that you won't enjoy it repeatedly, though, as there's not a lot happening here, so it may come as a relief to know that prices are already starting to come down just about a month after the release date and I've seen copies on eBay from 99 pence which, if you're a fan, is well worth a look. Mostly, though, it's just more of the same and it's likely to be goodbye, although not good riddance, to Sandi Thom.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Devil's Beat
2 Shape I'm In
3 Wounded Hearts
4 Saturday Night
6 Remote Control Me
7 Success's Ladder
9 Music In My Soul
10 The Pink and the Lily
11 I'm A Human Being
12 The Last Picturehouse
13 My Ungrateful Heart