Paloma Faith is a strange little pop star. She’s as endearing as she is interesting, as talented as she is adaptable. She’s an artist who has continually strived for success but never truly peaked – when you look back on her previous work (two Top 10 albums, both Platinum selling now, several Brit nominations, reams of Top 40 singles, acting credits and successful European and American tours amongst much else), it’s clear to see she’s been ticking boxes along the way, just perhaps not enough to be regarded as competition for the Gouldings, Allens, Florences and Adeles here in the UK.
Faith returns to our ears this month with her third LP, A Perfect Contradiction, described by the singer herself as an ”’if it’s all gone to shit, fuck it, let’s have a dance’ kind of record”. Her debut album, Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful? was a weird and wonderful pop album which peaked at Number Nine whilst the follow up, Fall To Grace incorporated R&B and soft-rock influences, its honest and mature approach landing it a spot at Number Two. This time around, Faith’s interests are a lot more diverse in the form of jazz, R&B, Motown and disco, keeping in the ‘vintage rediscovery’ vain of so many Top 40 artists. However, this change in tone works in our songstress’ favour.
Lead single, ‘Can’t Rely On You’, is a Pharrell produced, modern day throwback to soul and funk. It mightn’t have seen as much airplay as it deserves but it’s a solid “classic Paloma” first single to be lifted from the new album: full of overzealous, theatrical vocals which, whilst impressive, border on desperate and unmanageable. By the time that disco classic/album highlight “Mouth to Mouth” begins, though, you’ll have thrown away any initial scepticism and allowed yourself to be entirely devoured by this criminally wonderful era. The 70s come alive through the subtle twinkles of genius production: the blasts of brass, the (used and abused) cowbell, the piercing synth and the genital warming basslines. “Write your number on my hand. Sweat it off when we dance. Let’s just do it like we just met.”
The album continues to list off its various influences as “Take Me” and “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” boast the timeless qualities of Motown. It almost feels like paint by numbers come the middle point of the record though, as a second listen reveals that a lot of A Perfect Contradiction sounds suspiciously similar to the tracks which have inspired it. A bad thing? Perhaps not for the younger fan who won’t be as familiar with the origins of this music but listeners who have a deep-rooted interest in older music may end up feeling cheated by the end of these
partially recycled songs. By the time ‘Trouble With My Baby’, an up-tempo jazz-funk number not out of place of John Newman’s debut record, has reared its bouncy albeit familiar head, it’s clear to see that Paloma has lost so much of what she retained, boasted and clung to previously – her originality.
As the album winds down, the pace abates also. ‘Impossible Heart’ channels Donna Summer in every way it can and acts as a final blast of disco energy from the album before we swathe and settle into funky and brooding ‘It’s The Not Knowing’ which caps the album at a reasonable forty minutes. Unfortunately, regardless of their similarity to past chart toppers, the few filler tracks are forgettable and end up lost amongst a forest of rattling bass and seductive percussion. The record ends not with a bang, although it has the utmost potential to, but with a whimper, a slither of tired and worn out soul. Upsetting, then, that someone like Faith, who has simultaneously offered up hearty portions of style and substance, seems to have sacrificed some of her token genius and craft in favour of a more accessible sound.
The swift and relentless genre-spanning of A Perfect Contradiction may allow it to tantalise the listener initially but it’s never given the chance to flesh out and mean something like her previous releases. The hop from disco floor filler to Motown ballad to soulful pop to racy jazz means you can never settle in for the long haul: you’re thrown from pillar to post, attempting to keep up with Paloma’s forceful desire to impress and interest you. There are ambitious moments throughout, notes which need to be turned down and songs which need more and less production respectively. The ‘wild and wacky’ Paloma Faith is still delivering, she just seems different this time around, almost hollow.
However, that’s not to say the music of A Perfect Contradiction is bad because that’s simply not true. When Faith gets it right, she gets it right. Albums of recent strive to be original and revolutionary which is a purely unrealistic feat and it seems as though Paloma, with her lavish locks, fashion and concepts, has finally accepted that. It’s just bittersweet that an artist with such creativity and personality has sacrificed exactly that which made her different. Perhaps this album will be spun as deceptively deep, riddled with mystery and meaning. Maybe it’s a final grasp for commercial recognition and success. “A Perfect Contradiction” is exactly that – an antithesis of what Faith was previously, recreated and re-imagined. Something tells me this album won’t quite propel Paloma to the heights of her talented UK competition but, with a headline slot at Bestival and, undoubtedly, several more festival appearances, it’s set to be an impressive year for the resilient and hardy 32 year old.
In the end, all I know is girls just wanna have fun and, if this Paloma having fun, hand the girl a Number One and let her make another one of these. It mightn’t be typical for her, it’s certainly not deep but, bloody hell, it sounds really good.
A Perfect Contradiction is released Monday 10th March in the UK.