Sweeter In History
The Australlian-born wonder is still capable of confounding, intruiging and overwhelming, after 5 years, and a fascinating road to glory.
‘Sweeter In History’ is available via
IT has been a long while since I have been excited by an established female artist…
whom has also managed to inspire me, as well. One who has managed to blow the cobwebs from my daily routine, and bring about a creative about-face. I shall become less mysterious, whilst explaining more about the appeal of Gabriella Cilmi, accordingly, but wanted to begin by taking you 10,000 miles away. That would be Australia, of course, and it is a country, nae, continent, that has produced a hell of a war chest of stunning musicians. In spite of the fact that the country is a fresh-faced teen in history’s long autobiography, the music stars of Australia, have made great leaps to supersede and confound expectation with a varied, and variable impact. There have been acts, that, in my view are not entirely indicative of the innovation and spirit of the country. Men at Work spring to mind. I never got their appeal; too gimmicky at times, and they seem to have built up a popularity, that has baffled me. That said, some of the best songwriters and bands have hailed from a land down under. Nick Cave is one of the greatest examples I can find. Classic rock bands such as INXS, AC/DC and The Easybeats, modern gods such as Silverchair, Tonight Alive, The Vines and The Avalanches are favourites of mind. Legends such as Kylie Minogue, Wolfmother and Slim Dusty hail from the hallowed turfs, and my personal favourites Crowded House do their country proud. Of course there is some rather bad fish amongst the filet mignon. Merchants of nauseating cheese such as Peter Andre and Delta Goodream do the nation no real service, as do the professional plagiarists (and the now defunct) Jet. There are vastly more positives in the mix, and the vast range of sounds, styles and genres, shows that even in a country where the T.V. and movie industry has a lot of catching up to do with regards to the U.K. and U.S., the music industry is arguable on a par. I know for a fact that there are a lot of great new acts bursting through, especially around Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. The cities, as well as the smaller towns are playing host to a raft of eager talent. It is down to the role that station Triple J, as well as festivals such as Big Day Out play in heralding and supporting this talent, but with bands like The Ruebens, After The Fall, The Shakeouts and Empire of the Sun providing a fervent patronage, existing acts are helping to further the cause of Australian music. There is still an insidious leaning towards soft pop and what is considered ‘mainstream’ or worse, ‘radio-friendly’; but if you scratch at the surface, and prepare to be open-minded, then many treasures and delights are to be found. I have been blown away by the sounds that are emanating from the island. Some have been played on Radio 6 and XFM; others I have heard played faintly in the background of a scene during Neighbours; as others have come to my attention through word of mouth and association with other bands. There is no box social marketing and commercialisation; men and women of incredible ambition and talent are still preferred to those with no talent, teeth or guts, whom and are all cosmetics, plastic and ‘ums’ ‘ahs’, ‘like’ and ‘you knows’. It is perhaps more prevalent in the U.K. and U.S.; because of a larger population and wider media, but I have been somewhat put out by a lot of new solo talent. Unless the women have common flavour notes of Laura Marling, Adele, Eva Cassidy, Jessie Ware or such, then the music proffered tends to be rather divisive and unsatisfactory. A lot of artists I have heard interviews seem incapable of stringing a coherent sentence together, and tend to be the sort of vomit-inducing crap you get from The X Factor: hollow, sob-story whiners, who have no talent to write songs, instead making existing songs worse. I don’t know, maybe it is just a bad time, but there are very few genuine, intelligent, likeable and extraordinarily talent solo female artists at the moment, beyond the mass of vanilla boredom that seems to be a staple. It is a bigger issue in the male market, but I have found that it is in areas you least expect, as well as in parts where spotlights rarely shine, that the most prodigious solo artists lie waiting. I have been impressed by a lot of the existing crop of solo artists such as P.J. Harvey, but very few younger established acts have pricked my senses. It is those that are in the Ansoff matrix/cap and trade crossover stage in their careers, that seem less pervious.
Gabrielle Cilmi has long been in my focus since she arrived on the scene, back in 2008. Aside from goddess looks and a stunning sex appeal, she has a keen intelligence and brilliant songwriting ability, that has seen her on many people’s lips and tips of tongues for 5 years now. In interviews she comes across as extremely down-to-earth and playful, whilst showing a great affinity for her contemporaries. In 2008 she scored big at the ARIA awards, and was nominated for a BRIT award the following year. Perhaps a sobering proposition was placed at her feet: how to keep the pace and strength this high, and manage to stay relevant and fresh. Her debut album, ‘Lessons to Be Learned‘ was met with large approval, and predominately positive reviews. Publications such as BBC music and Daily Music Guide were perhaps lukewarm; the latter stating that there may be “too much gloss” to the sound. Allmusic were more positive, highlighting that the album possessed a great range of styles and shifts, and kept interest high. The lead-off single ‘Sweet About Me’ was a bit of an iron lung. In the same way that Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ was the anthem of their early career and something they could not escape, it also gave them exposure that lesser songs would not have. Radiohead wrote ‘My Iron Lung’ in response to the mixed blessings that that song brought, and Cilmi and her collective back catalogue took a back seat to ‘Sweet About Me’. It was- and is- a terrific song, injected with interlinked sounds of the U.S., U.K. and Australia, presenting its author as something of a mysterious vixen. It was a stylish and gutsy slab of pop and soul. It was written after Cilmi relocated to London, and was inspired by a trip to a record store in Paris. It was the most played song of 2009 in the U.K., was used in several advertising campaigns, ratcheting up a mighty 70,000 sales. It was written by its young heroine, who wanted to let it be known that just because she is young, doesn’t mean she is inexperienced, naive or clueless. It was a song that was played a great deal, and brought exposure and plaudits to Cilmi. It was seen as the key cut from her album, but at the same time, brought some mixed blessings. Many critics and fans might have been looking for 11 or 12 replications or mutations of the track, and due to the vast spotlight the track received, many felt that the rest of the album may have not hit the same high notes. It is endemic of the industry and people as a whole, when they latch onto a particular song, and feel the need to hear the same type of song duplicated for the rest of the career of the artist. The debut album has a lot of diversity and the record’s release came at an inopportune time. With the likes of Duffy and Adele on the scene at the same time, it suffered in an overcrowded market. The following release ‘Ten’ fared better. That exceptional voice was at the forefront once more. It is an instrument that has been compared to Amy Winehouse, as well as ‘precosiously sparkling’ by The Guardian. Songs like ‘On A Mission’ and ‘Hearts Down Lie’, brought in new fans and its sexier and funkier sound appealed to many reviewers. A few years have passed, events have unfolded. Cilmi has been more influenced by a blues sound, as well as artists like Dolly Parton and Tricky. Perhaps a little downcast following, what was seen as negative reception to ‘Ten’, Gabriella has been releasing songs; ‘Vicious Love’ was met with many questions, to which Cilmi has responded to, by stating that the song (as indeed the forthcoming album), will be more reflective and soulful, with the emphasis that the impending album will be made by her, for her, and the album she wants to make. ‘Vicious Love’ is about or heroine’s view that in spite of any sort of vicious love and seeming dead ends, most roads in life are dead ends; so effectively, just go with it. It is a tantalising cut that shows that our protagonist is going to unleash a more mature, and more scintillating and evocative album, with tender, personal edges, as well as innovation and crackle too.
The suburbanisation of her musical landscape, has lead to a beautiful avenue: ‘Sweeter In History’. It was Calvin Coolidge that said “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence”. Cilmi has shown a bag of omnipotence, with regards to her career and artistry, and it has lead her here. There is the simplest and briefest of introductions; with just a chime that announces the vocal. Cilmi displays her stunning voice; parts Macy Gray and Amy Winehouse; with none of the restrictions of the former, nor grave foreboding of the latter. It is soft and reverent, with a seductive and has some influences of the blues and souls greats. I could well imagine modern-day Billie Holiday or Nina Simone writing this sort of track. The tones are smoky and sexy, with protestations such as “It didn’t taste as sweet/As it was meant to be”, being early shots. There is initial dislocating; Cilmi wondering how she got “caught between two cities”; unsure as to how events have taken the course they have. The vocal trickles and caresses, giving the words a tender consideration, but also adding weight to the emotions. At around the 0:40 marker, the pace intensifies and a crescendo is born. Scenes are set and a tale of love-gone-wrong, or bad memories are exorcised; with Cilmi declaring that “Some things are sweeter in history”. I guess that it seems events are easier to deal with retrospectively, and it is hard to lose a grip from something you do not want to. The verses are enveloped with a powerful conviction; the nature of the voice gives condemnation as well as acts as a spiritual ballast. If you watch the associative YouTube video in conjunction, it adds some credence to this summation. In it, Cilmi is painted in black and white; this classical look maybe ironically proves that the course of events and love is not black and white; but as much as anything it projects a filmic and cinematic epic sweep. Cilmi herself has dispensed with the long locks, sporting instead a shortened length; she is now a gorgeous woman, instead of a beautiful girl. There is a sense of ethereal whisper; a lot of imagery focuses upon faith, dusty rooms, seconded cloisters, and a crucifix being caressed by our protagonist. She looks from windows and wanders streets (sometimes under a veil), with a contemplative and deep in thought expression. You can tell from the song that there is a lot of rumination and looking back. Gabriella’s former suitor has been cast asunder as she wanted to preserve a memory of him in a particular place and time; a time that was perhaps a more redolent time. There are pointed words with a little scorn. As much as anything our young heroine is recounting days past, and when there were times you used to lie “with your perfect design”, and Cilni wanted to feel empowered and not enforced, it is perhaps prescient that the disgraced beau is recounted as someone who “didn’t get what (you) came for”. The vocal for the most part is traditionally reliable Cilmi: powerful and authoritative. I mentioned Winehouse earlier, and there is a little of her ‘Frank’ emotional cuts, as well as ‘Back To Black’s stronger moments. When the pace intensifies, the vocal spills and sparks; almost syncopated and rapped at times. It is tender and wracked at some ventures, and at others is quite composed and Socratic. She fears no god or consequence; instead her words tell of a woman who has learnt from an experience, and seems galvanised and together in spite of any misgivings or heartache. The composition itself is impressive and grand. The piano, especially is potent and heart-skipping; at times it is in accordance with ghostly vocal backing, and at others stand alone. In that respect there are parallels with Radiohead‘s experimenting emotionalism during ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’. The most prolific moments during those two albums employed the piano effectively; it was a flaming ace up the sleeve, and created evocative mood and tangible emotion. Cilmi, too, interlinks that, latching it to a blues and soul motif; creating a swelling momentum throughout. As the song climaxes (almost sexually), the tension and gravity pushes you further to the floor, and succumbs to entropy; leaving but a haunted cry. The percussion is exemplary, in the sense that it does everything it needs to do. It backs the vocals up perfectly; keeping the spine straight, and the back supported, but at the same time, elicits its own momentum; speculating and pioneering, and able to add extra depth to the proceedings. In the music video, Gabriella arrives at the foot of a marble (?) cross, after surveying some nearby gravestones. Perhaps it is a symbolic inclusion, but as the final frame arrives and she looks back, there are questions left in the mind. I was wondering if the song is inspired by a break up or turbulence in her past, and whether she has come to peace with events. There is a little mystery and curiosity in the lyrics; a lot of sharp-shooting and literal lyricism is displayed, yet there is some oblique and open-ended wording that means you can draw your own conclusions as well as emphasise and support the core theme.
I shall not ramble for too long, in conclusion. For those fans that wander where the ‘Sweet About Me’ girl has gone, then the best I can say is that musical puberty has hit. There was never any petulance or naivety within that song, and as Gabriella herself stated, it was a song saying how wise and switched on she was. The rules have not changed and the posts have not been moved. The only thing different here is the sound. There is less emphasis on fun and swing, instead it is more introverted and a calmer beast. It is a stronger track in my view, and shows how far our heroine has come since her debut. She has always been a fine songwriter, but here there is maturity and a wise head on young shoulders. Whether you want to accept it or not, the sound of Gabriella Cilmi may well replicate the majesty of this track. There may well be a lot of left and right turns, and if you are familiar with her work, you know she does not like to stand still. For sure we will hear some fun, some lively kicks, and some blending of invigorating sounds and revitalised themes. She is a woman who knows what she wants, and someone who is able to play upon familiar themes, and put a stylish and impressive spin to them. Many may go to the Winehouse well when analysing the vocal and the sharp and thought-provoking lyrics, but the two are different artist. There will be no self-destruction or questionable morals in a personal or professional context, as Cilmi has stated that she wants to herald a sea change in her sound, and mix things up a bit. ‘Sweeter In History’ has been in my head for a while and have found myself humming the tune, and singing along; sometimes having my sanity questioned by passer-bys. I have been compelled to start a new song, and as I am working on a ‘mini-L.P.’ of my own and trying to focus my attentions towards a more personal plain, the ‘honourary Brit’ has given my food for thought. She has also inspired a few rather wonderful music video ideas that I am now desperate to harness, damned if I know where they will end up!
I am going to finish with a couple of points, that will include quotation and comedy. It was Friedrich Nietzsche that said: “The essence of all beautiful art, of all great art, is gratitude”. Gabriella has has a long, and not always easy ride. She has fought off and overcome some critical doubts and has had to stay strong and focused in a busy market, that has had little sympathy for similar artists in the past. She knows how hard you have to work to be remembered and revered, and it is her refusal to stand still and compromise that has lead to the first steps of her forthcoming 3rd album. She has shown a musical shift filled with confidence, and little nerves. There are strong signs that the upcoming release will be her strongest yet, and will un-crease any loose edges. “The idea of writer as sage is pretty much dead today” is what J.M. Coetzee said in relation to his own work. Cilmi is going to be added to a short list of female artists, today, whom are able to write personal and relevant material, and have a level of conviction and talent that will appeal to all: regardless of age, gender or musical persuasion. In the middle of the pot is the voice, which is queen. Many would have to smoke 50-a-day and drink 50 gallons of gin to obtain something that comes naturally to Cilmi. Those who have trepidations about the upcoming album, will- I’m sure- not be disappointed. I shall leave you with some pathos- albeit, funny. It perfectly encapsulates the nervous voice of young artists; the shock you get from hearing an unexpected wonder of a voice, and the critical reaction; before the central figure turns burnt out critic. It is not something Gabriella should be fearful of (far from it)- but there are pertinent aspects: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYgVYvc7Neg.
Enjoy; and prepare for what is sure to be a ‘must-hear’ album for 2013.