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Greg Kurstin and Sia have more than a few things in common, although you may have never heard of The Bird and the Bee. Apart from collaborating together on several occasions – Kurstin has more or less co-written and produced Sia’s last two albums – and being responsible for innumerable hits by the likes of Rihanna, Beyoncé, Lana del Rey, Kylie Minogue and Tegan and Sara, they are both reluctant performers in their own right.
Sia’s career may be that of a global superstar (albeit one who can often be seen with a paper bag or out-sized wig covering her face), but Greg Kurstin and already accomplished singer Inara George (aka The Bird and the Bee) have never been concerned with that level of success.
Recreational Love, their fourth album if you include the hit and miss Hall & Oates covers album from 2010, is no radical departure for the couple with their musical choices being more low-key and subtle than Kurstin’s work with Beyoncé, et al. The duo prefers instead to slyly, and with consistent humour, observe from the sidelines.
It’s not easy for a pop act to create a sound that makes them immediately identifiable but it’s one of the most essential and desired aims of the genre and one that The Bird and the Bee have managed effortlessly. A large part of this is due to Inara George’s lush, fluid and eye-poppingly dynamic voice and range. She is neither a histrionic diva nor a Perry-style typical pop vocalist and has a smooth, genuinely seductive style of singing that aligns itself perfectly with the retro and more adult jazz-pop sound that The Bird and the Bee are synonymous with. This hybrid and staunch sonic decision that’s been their signature since their 2007 debut can be both their strength and also at times their undoing, especially when the duo’s aforementioned humour can be a little too on the nose.
‘Young and Dumb’ is one of the few songs on Recreational Love that Kurstin could have given away to the very long queue of potential takers – its snapping electronics and consistent snark perfect for another Sophie Ellis Bextor comeback perhaps. If it weren’t for the love and alliances he obviously holds with many of his chart-topping cohorts, you could be mistaken that the song’s title and the hook of ‘wrecking the wrecking ball’ could be a dig at Miley Cyrus – but not in this instance, and Kurstin just isn’t that kind of guy. The title track aims for a smoochy, blue-eyed soul re-write of one of idols Hall & Oates’ most successful songs, ‘I Can’t Go for That’, and pulls it off with aplomb.
‘Will You Dance?’ harnesses the combined specialities of The Bird and The Bee beautifully. Kurstin produces a crisp, disco soundscape for George’s swooping vocal to glide on top of whilst she works her way seamlessly around the song’s expertly constructed melodies. ‘Please Take Me Home’ is a somber electronic ballad that is lifted into an airy, transcendental place with George’s surreal questions regarding identity ‘lost on some island with some joker who just jokes incessantly and some singer who won’t stop singing – is it her or is it…?’
‘Doctor’ and the city love letter ‘Los Angeles’ (The Bird and the Bee being the archetypal LA pairing) are both slow burners with charms that may initially come across as throw away on first listen but are warm, albeit gentle, songs with George’s charismatic vocals ultimately securing them as special. ‘Jenny’ has a cartoon and forced energy which pushes the track into a kitsch novelty and ‘Lovey Dovey’, an acoustic ballad and beautifully sung, comes across as self conscious and smug.
‘We’re Coming To You’ is a mid-tempo that gets under your skin. ‘In the box again, six walls just to close me in … is there anyone out there?’ questions George gently, whilst ‘In the Air Tonight’ drums collapse against an underlying discordant synth-line and twinkling keyboard motifs surround her.
Along with its up-tempo counterpart, ‘Will You Dance?’, Kurstin and George prove an uncanny and almost subliminal ability to subvert the pop genre and incorporate a looser jazz element which won’t scare even the most squeamish.
You probably already own records by Sia so to get an insight into what makes her tick and discover an album that could become your summer favourite, you couldn’t find much better than The Bird and the Bee’s Recreational Love.