Katie Melua-The House CD Dramatico DramCD0061
Well the question I had in my mind, when I heard that William Orbit was involved in the new album from Katie Melua was “could he do for her, what he did for Madonna ?” We shall see……….
The album William both produced, helped compose and played on for Madonna was Ray of Light, which heralded a new phase in her career and saw an almost total reinvention of the previous incarnation of Madonna. In fact the first time I saw the music video for the track Frozen I did not recognise either Madonna or her voice. Now the dark visuals for the video and a raven haired Madonna certainly threw me at first but having listened to the album many times and that track in particular I still feel that William’s influence in terms of composition and production gave Madonna one of her more successful transformational relaunches. Would the same be true for Katie Melua ?
Now if Katie was hoping for this same level of transformation then in that regard, The House is I feel a failure because this is still very much a Katie Melua album and very obviously so. I think one of the major challenges here is Katie’s own voice, which is very distinctive. While technically excellent with fantastic diction and phrasing (rare these days in popular singers), it is so very obviously her trade mark, that it will be very hard indeed I feel for her to be able to break free entirely from her past sound; which is so much part of her voice and singing style, rather than just a matter of music.
However if this album was about helping her progress into a more serious musician, with much more depth, rather than turning Katie into someone else (impossible due to her distinctive voice); then The House is a success. This album is in quite a few places darker, more mature and less twee (still present on some tracks) than most of the material on her other albums. Sorry I know many like her previous material but being honest I could take it or leave it and mostly leave it. However The House is in a different class to her previous albums all together and is in my opinion a fairly major step forward for her.
I have been playing this album a lot and it has a depth of sound and as I stated earlier, a new found maturity which previous material has lacked for the most part, in my opinion. Now this may just be a matter of taste, i.e my taste but having seen a recent interview with Katie and William, she her self stated that this was the kind of change in direction she was aiming for.
So has Katie been able to do this ? Well yes and no, as she still manages to include the odd song that harks back to the old style such as Tiny Alien and to a lesser extent I’d Love to Kill You, these make me cringe a bit. However with the bulk of the albums contents William Orbit I feel has managed to inject the songs with a degree of subtle electronica and a slightly heavier vibe than the previous light weight wispy nature of some of Katie Melua’s past material.This Orbit vibe even makes the songs I don’t like much, bearable.
The main writing credits are attributed to Melua and Guy Chambers ( http://www.guychambers.com/ ) but as I have never heard the Lemon Trees I can’t comment on how much of this new direction is down to his influence or that of William Orbit’s. William gets no official writing credit only as producer only, though as mentioned above I can hear shades of his sound through out this album. Other tracks are co- written with Polly Scattergood, Bill Monroe, Mike Batt (he off the Wombles fame) and Rick Nowels (who is also credited on Madonna’s Ray Of Light album as a co-writer).
Stand out tracks for me are The Flood with its epic film score, slightly arabic sound and I guess it could be the theme song for a new Bond film; it has that feel to it.
Red Balloons is a chill out track with a simple sparse instrumental with a hint of electronica floating in the back ground from time to time and for me I think this is a wonderful vehicle for Katie’s voice. There is also a wee hint of the Cowboy Junkies about this haunting track.
The One I love Is Gone starts with a slight Ry Cooderish south American vibe and progresses into a gentle southern blues meander, like the flow of a bayou in deep dark Lousiana.
Plague of Love with its uptempo, slight Husky Rescue vibe, is as close as you will get to a traditional pop song on this album and is one of my favourites.
Twisted with its slight Kate Bush, meets the Cardigans, meets Husky Rescue vibe is also a very strong track and represents the sort of material I would like to hear more of from Katie in the future.
The final track is The House, which has a laid back, dark hued, blues tinged melancholy, which is haunting and sensual and hints at topics you would not expect the old Katie to sing about.
The tracks that don’t quite do it for me are I’d Love to Kill You, A Moment of Madness and Tiny Alien where either the lyrics are to me slightly annoying or her voice just does not quite fit the overall feel of the song, just an opinion so please don’t shoot me.
Sound quality is very good, with an open and detailed sound that lacks any edginess, with a very good sense of acoustic space on most tracks and the album has a slightly warm overall sound. Soundscapes and textures are presented in three dimensions with fine instrument detail preserved and in this regard this is one of the best sounding albums I have heard recently with compression mostly absent and dynamic shading is almost given full range though there is a hint of levelling here and there. Well done William.
Overall this is an excellent album, with only a few weak tracks and is a brave and overall in my opinion successful move away from the overly sweet, wispy previous style to a more real earthy vibe. I suspect some of Katie’s fans may not want to move on with her and this would be a real shame but if her next album continues to progress in this direction, then I for one will be waiting with great interest to see and hear what its like.
So a change of style for better or worse ? Very much for the better……
To all involved, very well done indeed.
Katie Melua-Acoustic Guitar.
Luke Potashnick/Steve Donnelly-Guitars
Katie Melua-The House CD Dramatico DramCD0061
Sound Quality 9 out of 10
Music 7.5 out 0f 10
Moon Andromeda Cd player, Meridian G02 Balanced Pre-Amplifier, Music Reference RM200 Amplifier, Anthony Gallo Ref 3.1 Speakers. Signal Cabling Atlas Marvos xlr to xlr, and Atlas Marvos Speaker cable. Mains leads Audience AU24 and Analysis Plus Power Oval 2. Equipment Tables used Clearlight Audio Aspekt Rack and Mana Floor Amplifier platform.
NB. The copyright of the images in this review belong with the original publishers.
© Text Copyright 2010 Adventures in High Fidelity Audio.
NB No part or portion of this article may be reproduced or quoted without written permission.