Live in Love
Live in Love is available at:
23rd February, 2017
THREE things have happened recently that…
have made me evaluate music and changes occurring. They are, before I come to my other points, the Brit Awards; Lorde’s return – and new track, Green Light, and BBC Radio 6 Music’s celebration of the year 1994 – that happened all-day-Friday on the station. After I look at these areas, I want to investigate the finer side of modern Pop; the strong and fascinating female artists emerging and the 1980s as a decade undervalued – and how to make a love song stand out from the crowd. That first strand, concerning recent revelations, has brought me, somewhat indirectly, to the shores of Natalie Gray. I will come to her soon but have been a bit disappointed by the so-called ‘best of British’. Every year they hype and pump the Brit Awards up – every year they are a damp squib and resounding disappointment. I love British music more than most people out there and am inherently aware of the wonderment and genius that lurks in the annals. I do not need to go into detail the acts and albums that have defined and underlined the greatest British music of all time. Modern British music has a lot of quality – not anywhere near the finest moments from music history – but is at its most varied, expansive and wide-ranging. Because of that, any award ceremony that sets to celebrate this should reflect reality. Whilst award shows from Kerrang! NME and the MOBO are, a little bit anyway, niche in their demographic – that is the intention; they reflect the tastes of their consumers/followers – that is not the case with the Brit Awards. It gets the big T.V. spot and endless promotion; it is the standout and bold-typed entry in the music calendar. You would think, therefore, such a ceremony would bring in all genres, races and styles of music – focusing on the very best of the best. Maybe it is my (very fine) musical tastes but that is not the case.
Again, maybe I am being subjective but there is a lot to fault in regards the Brit Awards. Aside from some half-arsed promises – to make the nominees and bill more racially diverse – the whole affair was decidedly white, boys’-club and predictable. In a colour spectrum of past years: 2017 was only slightly different to last year; you’d need microscopic vision to detect any contrast. Again, the music on show is not indicative of wider tastes. The award ceremony is, essentially, Q magazine and Capital F.M. rolled into one: it looks at mainstream Pop with a little bit of ‘cooler’/better music thrown in. My record collections contain very few albums/singles from the modern charts so why would an awards show like the Brits cater solely to those who whore over the chart-made music of this country? We had, this year, dependably insipid and dull music from Ed Sheeran; a rather shoe-horned attempt at celebrating black music and a few high points – Katy Perry’s performance was notable for its theatre and, unfortunately, pratfalls. I bring this side of music up because it seems like the mainstream and Pop market, the worst elements of, is taking too much focus away from those artists making it credible and promising. I can say the same thing about the festival line-ups this year. Reading and Leeds has – big yawns all-round – Muse on the bill. They are a phenomenal live act (one of the very best) but seem like a very uninspired go-to for headliners. Their last album, 2015’s Drones, was met with mixed reviews and showed a band struggling for ideas. Kasabian are also headlining (Eminem is the only sane choice) and they have been in the wilderness for God-knows-how-many years! They have never resonated with critics; so receiving such a lofty accolade (as to headline Reading and Leeds) is baffling. In that same dull-arsed, who-cares spirit of festival headliners let down: Foo Fighters are, as anyone would have predicted, taking to the Glastonbury stage. Like Muse, they are desperately obvious and, like Muse, have not crafted a decent album for years – their last-released album isn’t exactly current.
How long before we find out Adele, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay are performing there? Two of the biggest festivals in the world have chosen to forsake edginess and credibility for the lure and demands of commerciality and Pop/Rock mediocrity. The best and most promising musicians will always find a way to get into the mind and play big stages but there are fewer opportunities for the genuinely original and good. Like race and gender: there seems to be a quality-based discrimination occurring which I am very unhappy about. Natalie Gray, bringing her into this, is one of those artists you think you’d have pinned on paper – the media promoting female artists based on their looks rather than talent – but would be dead-wrong. I’ll go into depth in a minute but have been intrigued by two encouraging occurrences this week: the first is to do with Lorde. In a way, I hear a lot of Lorde in Natalie Gray. The New Zealander (Lorde) rose to prominence with her debut, Pure Heroine. Back in 2013, the heroine still in his teens, critics lauded her because of that incredible maturity. Like Billie Marten’s debut last year – I shall not mention her once more – many were staggered to hear a teenager take such a different and thought-provoking take on music. The immaculately-produced album resonated because of its honesty and addictiveness: fitting for an album whose first and last word define openness and addiction (were you to take an homonymic approach to the words ‘heroine’/’heroin’). Whilst not wheel-inventing – hard to truly break moulds given her age, genre and voice – Pure Heroine offered a young lady unwilling to bend to the wills and tastes of plastic-Pop marketing men and the easiest lures of the mainstream. Much more credible and impressive than anything out there: her album was the announcement of a true songwriter; someone standing by her female peers but showing she was someone to be taken very seriously.
Pleasingly, it looks like newly-teased song Green Light continues her drive and arc whilst offering a little bit of 1980s’/’90s’ Pop. The song is a definite anthem but shows there is enough to be excited about in her forthcoming album – I will explore that more soon. I am excited to A) hear the song on a new full-length album, and, B) discover what the reaction is in the coming weeks. It has been four years so one imagines the (twenty-year-old) kiwi has been busy in the studio. Okay, aside from the exciting return of Lorde; I’ll finish by looking – in this section at least – at 1994 and boutique festivals. Natalie Gray, in her ethos and approach to music, reminds me of Lorde and is someone who provokes memories of music-past. ‘6 Music has completed its day-long tribute to, perhaps, the finest year in music. From the staggering Dance music and one-off cheesy gems (Ace of Base’s The Sign, anyone?!); it was a sensational year that saw Grunge transition and die – its godfather, Kurt Cobain dying that year; the new breed having to shoulder that sadness – and the explosion and celebration of British music (‘Britpop’). In addition, we saw some truly legendary albums released and a huge optimism in music. Ground-breaking, era-defining and revolutionary: modern music would not be like it were it not for the movements and breakthroughs happening that year. That was one of the last years I felt genuinely hopeful and excited about music. I was ten when the year began and really started to embrace music then: hearing all it had to offer and old enough to truly appreciate its relevance and power. For me, it was the Pop and Rock music of that time that really got to me. The lyrical intelligence and nuance; the sensationally tight performances and array of new sounds was too much for my small mind. Fast-forward to the present and you look around modern Pop/Rock and wonder what has happened. Yes, there is some greatness but, perhaps, modernity and marketability is the new ‘Britpop’ movement?
There are those renegades who have the ability to hook the masses but not conform to shallow and plastic ideals. Again, Gray is one such human who gives me a sense of those better times – able to produce relatable songs but give the music and vocals that tongue-licking hint of quality. She could easily fit into ’94 as she, as an artist, is looking to make music stronger and more interesting; ties herself to noble causes and is more original than most music out there. It is, as I keep saying, something I will explore more but will end with a bit about the ‘boutique’ festivals. I have bemoaned the corporate festivals that are booking some rather who-gives-a-sh*t artists; there are those festivals doing things differently. Secret Garden Party, rather sadly, is producing its final line-up. I think it is fifteen (maybe sixteen?) years of age and has inspired and changed the course of modern British festivals. It was the first to do drug-testing I think; it reaches out to the more credible spectrum of music and is considered one of the coolest and easiest-going festivals. In July, in Mill Hill Field, an eclectic line-up – including Jagwar Ma and Metronomy – thousand will flock to the four-day event. It is an independent event that does not prostitute itself with a corporate sponsor; it is how a festival should be run – the fact it is ending is because it cannot be different: every major festival is following Secret Garden Party. I feel the last shindig will be a colourful, sun-seeking piss-up and will go out with a bang. I love the festival, and others like it, because it has that honest mantra and ethical approach to music – truly the best of modern music without kowtowing to the mainstream and tween audiences. Among the cool line-up – Let’s Eat Grandma and RAY BLK represent two sides to British music – the Arts and Expression theme is “Sweet dreams are made of these? and who are we to disagree…?”.
The Eurhythmics-tease and extra-curricular sights – big wheel rides, swimming and boat rides – it will be a huge celebration. I love the line-up and the fact (Secret Garden Party) prides quality and diversity over every other concern. It is a shame this will be the last event they are throwing because it seems ready-made for the likes of Natalie Gray. She could well bring even more vibrancy and fun to an already-bursting carnival in Cambridgeshire. Thinking about that sad demise makes me feel other festivals will spring up – inspired by the legacy laid down. I would expect Natalie Gray to take to those stages and meet a loyal and intrigued audience. I’ll leave this side of things there but always want to bring it back to my featured artist. She, like Lorde, is one of those mature and spectacular Pop artists; she has that cool and credible vibe – that could see her play the best boutique festivals – and reminds me just what music can provide. She has performed at gay rights festivals and some of the most impressive gigs around; a dancer and actor – someone who is a Jill-of-all-trades but has that deep love and focus for music. The London-based, fire-haired heroine could, as I said, be predicted on paper. Her stunning looks and alluring façade might have you thinking: another mass-produced Pop star with no name and even-less talent. Natalie Gray, yes, is gorgeous but don’t write her off as a talent show reject or a manufactured Pop artist. She is one of those talents who not only will have a long career but has a hugely evocative and fantastic sound. I wanted to look at Pop more generally – before coming onto the 1980s’-inspired brand – and the better, more credible side to it. I have explained how certain award shows and festivals seems to lust after the very worst and least inspiring artists from around Pop music. There is, working in the background, a movement of men and women who are doing sterling work.
We get it into our head, when thinking of Pop and Rock, it is going to be the same and lacking elements that really speak to the true music-lover. I have talked about 1994, the celebration that just took place, and wrote about the year for my blog. That was a time when exciting things were happening and new groundwork being laid. I am not suggesting the past twenty-three years have been baron and sedentary: if you know where to look, you’ll find Pop and Rock acts that invoke the majesty and wonder of that time. The spirit and quality have not died and we should never assume that. Most of the best new Pop, in my mind, is coming from the unsigned or underground artists – those who are not quite at mainstream-level. Whilst the majority (of the best Pop acts, especially) are in L.A. and London; there is a broad range of wonderful Pop artists around the U.K. I am excited by Natalie Gray because she is one of those people who can create a great hook or fantastic melody without copying the herd. In the past hour, whilst I have been listening to the radio, earphones in, I’ve heard some fantastic new/older Pop and Rock offerings. The sheer scope, depth and impact of the music has taken me aback. When I contrast that to modern crop, there is a little bit of disappointment. I am not willing to write the entire modern Pop scene off but feel there are styles/practices that need abolition. If you consider Natalie Gray, she could easily have fallen into that safe and comforting sound: generic lyrics about love and glossed-up production values; emotionless beats and sexuality above content. Luckily for us, she is one of those artists who writes from the heart but is an exceptional songwriter to boot.
I am inspired by strong female songwriters and the changes that have occurred the last couple of years. There has been debate whether there is sexism in the music industry and it is obvious: there always has been, and certainly is now, a degree of gender-imbalance and discrimination. I have written pieces about female artists and their merits; how there are fewer opportunities for them so, yes, it is important to highlight the great female artists about. I have long-mentioned the great female-made albums of 2017: Beyoncé’s Lemonade; Solange’s A Seat at the Table through to impressive albums from Julia Jacklin and Angel Olsen. There are a lot more but the very finest shows what a voice and role female artists have. There is a big debate about how wise over-sexualisation and that sort of exposure is: whether it is empowering and the right course or adding to the problem. The music is, after everything, the most important thing. I know so many great female artists and have been stunned by the mainstream’s best the last year or two. It makes me wonder why women have to struggle for recognition and how, in 2017, there is this discrepancy. It extends to studios, business roles and all areas of music. Few women are employed behind-the-scenes and the pay gap is obvious. Behind the microphone, fewer women are getting festival bookings and the same chances as their male counterparts. You cannot ignore the talent and music originating from the women of music. I feel, without pandering, female artists are stronger, more impressive and varied than the boys – a view I have maintained for a long time now. There is a whole debate to suggest how productive/destructive sexual promulgation and exposure is to the gender debate. If we set that aside; strip it down to the music only – just look at the great music being made by female artists. You have your strong Soul/R&B artists like Beyoncé: a sweetheart of music who is more inspiring, relatable and popular than any world leader out there. She has contemporaries flying that flag strong. Others, in Pop and Folk, are showcasing an intelligent and fascinating lyrical melting pot that recalls the Folk and Pop legends of old. Away from that and one can enjoy incredible Electro. music and some commanding, determined Dance – all genres of music really. It seems inexplicable and unforgivable female artists have to struggle to be on an equal footing to the men. Maybe we will see some changes in the coming years; it needs to happen for the sake of music. We will never encourage female artists to come through if they feel they’ll have to fight THAT hard for spotlight. I’ll leave that point aside, only to say Natalie Gray is a singer-songwriter who proves my point (about strong and vivid female artists) and inspire many others to come into music.
Before I look at Natalie Gray’s music, current and past, I will bring up a relevant point or two: the 1980S and making the most out of a love song. The first word/point might cause chills in some. Sure, the abiding memory of the ‘80s is shoulder pads, disturbing plumage and naff technology. The music, rather unfairly gets a bit of a spanking – many feel it is weaker than any other decade. Sure, there was some awful music and I’ve never really understood the appeal of the New Romantic wave. Aside from the great Rock and Alternative albums of the decade; the Pop wave, artists like Madonna, were especially impressive. There are some artists (today) employing some 1980s touches but not as many as you’d like. I have ‘discovered’ artists like Shura who remind you of classic Madonna albums like True Blue and Like a Prayer. In fact, from Like a Virgin in 1982 to Like a Prayer in 1989; we got some of the finest and inspiration Pop music of the decade. There were few who garnered the same attention and stardom as a young Madonna. I have loved hearing artists like Shura buck trends and commercial desires and provide personal, open work that has that great 1980s feel. Many will ask whether there is validity to nostalgia but I say it is nothing of a sort – a tender retrospective and tribute to a great time for music. We are not looking back misty-eyed; instead, preserving great music and ensuring it reaches new generations through current artists. When I listen to Natalie Gray I hear a composition, that of Live in Love, which reminds me of four of Madonna’s best albums: Like a Virgin, True Blue; Like a Prayer and Ray of Light. The first album has girlish, delightfully kitsch tracks Material Girl and Shoo-Bee-Doo; classics such as the title track and underrated gems such as Stay. True Blue manages to lead with Papa Don’t Breach but has Live to Tell, La Isla Bonita and Open Your Heart on it. It is a more mature and accomplished album that sees Madonna co-writes every song. Forward to Like a Prayer and that title track stands in the mind. Express Yourself is Madonna at her peak; Cherish and Keep It Together are incredibly strong offerings.
Whilst the Impatient Saints of Dubiousness might reject Madonna’s 1980s material as camp and outdated: think how much of an impact it made then and how enduring it is now. Listening to any of her 1980s albums and you hear a confident and independent artist writing about things that matter. She took risks with subject matter and visuals – controversial videos and songs talkingabout abortion, sex and sins of the flesh – whilst providing some of the catchiest and most memorable music of the decade. Compositions were never boring or predictable. Every vocal, melody and chorus offered something different and ensured she was, at that point in time, the undisputable Queen of Pop. Madonna albums like True Blue changed Pop music and inspired legions of young musicians. I hear many modern Pop artists copycat Adele, Beyoncé and Amy Winehouse (maybe getting into Jazz and Soul) but there is a lack of Madonna-like endeavours. Natalie Gray presents a very modern song in Live in Love but definitely takes you back to the ‘80s. The production is glossier and the recording techniques/equipment less dated. At its heart, and within the incredible, kaleidoscopic composition, you are transported back to the mid-1980s and that Madonna heyday. I mentioned Ray of Light (released in 1998) as that other, very surprising Madonna triumph – at a creative period where few expected such a stunning album. With help from producer William Orbit; Ray of Light helped bring Electronica fully into the mainstream. The same way Madonna changed Pop and created a bolder, empowered brand of music to a – in that region – pale ‘80s; Ray of Light ensured the late-‘90s was full of Electronic wonder and sampling brilliance. It was just what music needed and (the album) cannot be understated. The title track is a giddy and blood-rushing track designed for busy dancefloors and huge smiles. Nothing Really Matters and Frozen and haunting as they are powerful. Natalie Gray, in her current single, seems to embody the best of Madonna and nods to a promising and exciting future. I can see her continuing in that mould – going through her own self-discovery/Like a Prayer album – before introducing more Orbit-esque production techniques and creating an Electronica/Pop banger. I will definitely repeat this point and surmise it in the conclusion but wanted to discuss my final introductory theme.
I want to talk, as briefly as I can, about love and making it original. That might sound like a Herculean task. Most (or the majority of) songs are based on love in some way or shape. Since the 1950s (or long before) every new artist has provided their take on heartbreak and regret. If we had to draw a pie chart of love-based songs, I’d say the biggest slice was regret-based and recriminatory; a smaller section concerning pure love and happiness; an almost-invisible slither looking at loving the world and your fellow man. The love song is the most important and ever-present source of inspiration for artists so, as we move through time, needs to say something new. I feel the configuration of guilt-regret-anger-loss has legs if you present it in a fresh way. The problem is, and what a lot of new artists are doing, is talking about their love lives and separation without originality, personality or any nuance. You hear very similar-sounding songs over and over again. That might sound like an unavoidable quandary: how can you say something new about love when there have been thousands (tens of) through music history? It is great (perhaps not the right word) artists feel like they can share their failed relationships with the world but, at the moment, if you have heard one, you’ve heard them all. You can discuss topics like love with more positivity and different spin which keeps to tradition but gives the listener a new angle. As somebody who is, rather unfortunately, hopelessly in love (unrequited, alas), a sombreness washes over me when I heard dejected love songs. With Natalie Gray – Live in Love looks at other avenues aside from the heart – you have someone who takes a different approach. Previous single, Little Secrets, as I shall discuss momentarily, dealt with those confessions and indiscretions – there was a social media tie-in where she asked fans to reveal their #LittleSecrets. Whether you see it is a drug, a battlefield or (see it) all around: love is that inscrutable and unpredictable slap in the nuts that takes no prisoner and can hit you when you least expect. I yearn to hear more songs that address relationships with greater hope or looks at love as a broader concept: applying it to the world we live in; appreciative or what we have in general. Maybe that is wishful thinking but, with Live in Love, you get a shot of intoxicating adrenaline that lifts the spirits. Again, this is something I will look at in the conclusion but it seems like the perfect chance to look at Natalie Gray’s previous work.
In investigating Live in Love; it is important to have a gander at Natalie Gray’s past and how she has come on as an artist. About four or five years ago, she produced a range of cover artists from Suitcase to Somebody That I Used to Know. Adding her own stamp and bringing new light to the songs: that incredible voice and deep passion turned the songs inside-out and made them feel new and reborn. I am familiar with a lot of the songs Gray has tackled but, until then, was never of fan. Having them in her hands; you get a fresh song and one you can bond with. That is one of the bonuses of covering someone else’s song: if it is done right, you can make it sound like your very own. Natalie Gray is skilled at doing so and hope she continues as her career continues to blossoms. In Little Secrets, you can hear Rock and Alternative sounds and something influenced by U.S. Country/Rock. It is a track that can easily sit in the mainstream – not in a bad way, mind. The track can be understood and appreciated by those who follow the modern U.S. charts but it is hard to compare Little Secrets to any other song direct. It has a vibrant and uplifting spirit and resonated with many of Gray’s followers. Proving herself to be a strong songwriter who can take her voice in any direction – a stunning offering and one that got a lot of attention. I feel Live in Love is a big step and change in terms of quality and style. You get some flavours of modern U.S. charts and Rock but, from the very first notes, it is clear what a different song Live in Love is going to be. It is rare to find a songwriter who can go from a track like Little Secrets to Live in Love in a short space of time. Bringing in new influences and threads of inspiration: I am impressed by the leap and astonished by the quality in her latest song. There is no commercial or personal reason to change styles and adapt other than creative curiosity and ability. Gray proves herself as capable when in the arena of 1980s Pop as she does in modern Country-Rock and Alternative. I love the originality and unexpectedness of Live in Love and how the song lingers – something you keep coming back to. I hope she does create an E.P. or album and many more songs like Live in Love.
Before you get settled and have any time to sharpen the expectations; Live in Love races in and provides a spritz of energy, colour and retro. glee. I have mentioned Madonna and her early days and you a semblance of that in Gray’s vocals. The vocals look at glitter being removed from the hair; the sun and the stars. There is a youthfulness and carefree attitude that goes into Natalie Gray’s most powerful, potent and alluring vocal performance yet. In the early stages, you get images of a girl coming back after dark; maybe enjoying the spirit and freedom of the night or just dancing in the sun. There is that dichotomy of day-night and the possibilities of opening the mind and spirit. It is so easy “to play it safe”, as the heroine explains. She has held back for so long and been reticent to cut loose and go for it. Whether stuck in a bad love or living in a rut; now she is following her instincts and going where the mood strikes. The composition fizzes and smiles all the way through. It has that 1980s-like synths. and percussion notes which take you back to that classic era of Pop – one often overlooked by modern artists. In a way, there is a lot of modernity and current sensibility. The between-verses breaks see the electronics get a bit icier and cooler. There is a turning-down of the volume and intensity of the choruses. You get a chance to relax, and in doing so, come right into the present-day. The modern production stands out and everything sounds more polished, serious and focused. I love how the song races out and elicits instant reaction. You get swept by the wave of sounds and energy emanating from Gray. At once, you imagine what is being sung and the inspiration behind the song. Maybe there has been some bad days and too many reserved nights. Not that the heroine has gone from an under-foot girl to a bold woman but one senses a definite change and sense of release.
Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun is given a cheeky nod as Gray backs up her case for emancipation and breaking from captivity. After a short stay in modern waters and a calmer and more relax climate – we are back, racing away and caught in the boldness and colour of the verse. Natalie Gray mixes her voice between 1980s-Pop – Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and others come in – but it never sounds disingenuous and commercial. Gray naturally has an affection and bond with the time and ensures Live in Love is her tribute to the time. All the synths. and beats are faithfully employed and done so with affection and care. The song itself has a broader appeal and not limited to genres and decades. Even male listeners can connect with the messages being delivered. There is no specific hero attached and any relationship being talked about. The heroine is rolling with the girls and clicking with a lifestyle she has dreamt about quite a lot. In a way, there is a girlishness and teenage vibe to the song. The composition and lyrics suggest that age when priorities are different and there’s a need to embrace life and discover the world. Natalie Gray’s voice and confidence give the song a womanly allure and sexuality without sexualising the song. Although the words have a lustful quality, Live in Love is a kaleidoscopic embrace of what can be and casting the shackles away. Whether concerning free-riding, friendships or an uncomplicated love life – it will mean different things to different listeners. In my mind, I got images of the 1980s and the fashions of the time. The beats and composition are never too latent and encroach on the vocal; nor too does the vocal performance steal much thunder. You get a subtle blend and nice balance that makes the song a rounded and nuanced thing.
The chorus alone should carry some sort of advisory sticker. Its catchiness and addictive quality will bounce around the brain for a while and perfect when you need a brief burst of uplift: turn the song on and you are instantly put in a better frame of mind. Oddly, the melody/composition and energy of the song sounds a little like Jermaine Stewart’s 1986 song, We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off. That song looked at – in a time when there was an AIDS crisis – a sense of sobriety and caution; you do not need to get naked to have fun. It was caution-filled and promoted a more chased and pure sense of fun. In a way, and not undermining that song, Live in Love advises a frivolity and adventurousness that is aimed at living life – not necessarily promulgating sexual expression. I love Natalie Gray’s song as it perfectly bridges the modern-day and 1980s without sounding too like anyone else. You get all the benefits of a 2017 song – the slick production and accessibility; a song that could see itself on a range of radio stations – and the pleasures and plus-points of the 1980s – the discovery of a new Pop movement and exploring an innocent subject matter that can connect with every race, gender and age. As a man of a ‘certain age’, I am seduced by the sheer energy and panache of the song. From the get-go, it lifts you up and drags you to the dancefloor. It is summery and ready to embrace the sunlit streets and moonlit beaches. You get neat little drum-breaks and punctured slam – a sort of boo-bop-boo thud that has that sweet ‘80s vibe – and little percussive sounds. It gives the song its bridge and punctuation but adds to the sound and nature of the song. In many modern Pop songs, instrumentation and effects are tossed in to flesh things out and distract from the fact the song is rather weak and ineffectual. Every time the chorus comes into view, you are looking forward to its arrival. Despite that, the verses are not to be overlooked and provide story and explanation. Natalie Gray does not process her voice and lets is power and tenderness to work together and create something pure and desirous. The mentality and objectivity of the song promote castigating restrictions and embracing the best of life. It is rare to hear that in a song and should be applauded. I know there will be more music from Natalie Gray and fascinated whether that follows the example of Live in Love. I am not used to hearing that 1980s-like sensation in modern Pop – maybe I have not looked hard enough. It would be wonderful to hear that continued as it seems, with Gray, she is restless and always challenging herself as an artist. From the Rock and Alternative straightness of Little Secrets to the more complex and nostalgic flair of Live in Love – someone who cannot be predicted but sounds commanding and natural wherever she chooses to step.
I’ll come back to my earlier points – Lorde and her return; credible Pop and strong female artists; award ceremonies and festivals and how they need to change; original love and the importance of the 1980s – but will look at Natalie Gray and her future. Little Secrets was a song/and is that made me think, in Gray, we have a singular, special talent. The song has taken on a life of its own: creating buzz on social media and resonating with new followers. Live in Love has that core Gray sound but sounds utterly confident and new. It is a step up and evolution that proves the time between releases was worth the wait! Now we have those two songs, and the body of work she has already created, it gets me wondering. I know Gray is excellent when it comes to covering other people’s songs so I am curious how the next year will play out. Little Secrets is a very modern song with some 1980s touches. It talks about confidentiality and love but has a broader impact and meaning. Live in Love is that rare thing: a song that looks at love (in various forms) without being heartbroken and negative. Both tracks, especially the latter, get the juices flowing and the vital organs engaged and galvanised. Her latest smash could have been ripped, lovingly and not copycatting, from any of the best 1980s Pop albums – I shall address that more soon. Live in Love’s single art (below) lays out Natalie Gray’s charms and dynamic. There is that multi-striped colour palette – the custard/mustard-yellow (courage and bravery) with the green/grey; the browns and salmon-pinks of love and affection – maybe I am assigning meaning to colours without actual providence and need. The thing is, with Gray, you have someone who expends huge energy in everything she does. That cover shows her in the centre, front-and-proud. The look, part-angered and strained, part-lustful and, in a sense, near-orgasmic – it is mysterious, captivating and simple. That is the thing about her music: it is detailed and busy but manages to be breezy and accessible at the same time. Like Lorde smashing back into the forefront – again, more soon – I am predicting great things for Natalie Gray.
I can imagine a four-track E.P. or something similar rocking-up before the year is through. Live in Love would be a great half-way point that keeps you hooked and ensures ears are well and truly blessed. Maybe Little Secrets as a lead-off – have a couple of new tracks, a banger and a slower jam, sandwiched either side of Live in Love. I am getting ahead of things but have a lot of faith and hope (for Gray). I talked about how she has played at gay rights festivals and a big supporter of equal rights – who isn’t, mind. She is someone who actively involves herself and cannot sit by and watch discrimination and hatred unfold. Her songs have found their way onto big stages – seducing colourful, untied crowds. I know she will be aiming for the festivals in the summer and it brings me to the issue of the big dates in 2017. I have mentioned how Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds and others are reflecting, to an extent, wider tastes but seem to be a bit mainstream and formulaic. Again, we have Foo Fighters, Muse and Kasabian headlining the big stages this summer. That line-up could have been taken from previous years and their inclusion (in 2017) seems a bit odd – given the new talent coming through and the established artists that can fill the stage. What is glaring, aside from the chart-driven ethos of the festivals, is how few women are getting big billing. The U.S. festivals are a bit more open-minded but, in the same way no black artist is headlining – Michael Kiwanuka and Frank Ocean could get the crowds in – it is down to the white boys and ‘safe’ acts once more. We need to change attitudes and predilections to include a wide remit of artists. Natalie Gray, for example, is someone who, in time, will earn her place on that stage. Do you think, in this modern climate, that is a possibility? I do worry the so-called ‘best’ and most established festivals are so limited and exclusive. There is a commerciality to artists like Muse and, say, Adele but it is ever-so dull and pointless. Music festivals should be about the music, no?! I’ll put the point to rest – like a lary drunk starting a fight with his own reflection – but it bares consideration. The point of it: I want to see a day where Natalie Gray, through merit and talent alone, is called to headline a big festival stage.
There are a lot of young, teenage/twenty-something artists making impact on the music scene – with typical, varying degrees of quality. The veracious swell of young Pop artists is confusing and over-populated. If you stick your head in the bucket of Pop right now, a lot of times you’ll bob up with an apple between teeth – quite often, you’ll emerge empty-mouthed and disappointed. There is still a great deal of processed and chart-bound Pop that has no spirit, originality or purpose. Themes look at love and relations whilst the compositions are tacked-on and soulless – the vocal often machine-created and grating. There are, thankfully, some fantastic young Pop artists pushing the envelope and creating something wonderful. Natalie Gray is one such artist: she deserves a lot of acclaim and the chance to perform internationally. I am not sure whether she is looking abroad but can see her owning America and getting her music over to Australia. It has such a utilitarian, go-anywhere capability; few audiences would turn her away. She is a strong and determined solo artist who, yes, has some producers and backing behind her but does not employ them to do the heavy lifting. The songwriting – the meat and bones of it – is explicitly her. Live in Love is not a committee-penned song aimed at chart success for someone knock-kneed reject warbler. I have grown tired of the attention given to talent show contestants and ‘artists’ who seems willing to prostitute themselves and appeal to the lowest-common-dominator audience. Whilst column-inches are not everything, consider this: what happens to the genuine acts who deserve spotlight? A lot of times, they are pushed aside and have to fight in the shadows. I am concerned there are so many strong and dynamic female artists who may never get what they deserve. With Natalie Gray, her sheer tenacity and spunkiness will ensure she does not quit – but how long will it take until she gets her just dues? Maybe it will take a few years but I know she will get there. True talent is rare but will always defeat nihilistic, crass music.
Lorde, who I mentioned at the very start, has been sending the Internet bat-sh*t-mad with her new single, Green Light. At first, it was a little teaser: a snippet of a song that got tongues wet and midriffs suitably creamed. Now, and with hankies still mopping up the aftereffects, there is a full-length song out there – with a video and everything, like. In it, our heroine dances around a night-time, barely-populated street. The song is, as she attests, about her first major heartbreak. The twenty-year-old, rebelling against her peers, turns a heartbroken moment into something uplifting and danceable. That is what she wanted to create: a song people can dance to and lose themselves in. I am someone who, whilst not rejected and jilted, has that burden of unrequited love – feeling alone and pained; unsure what to do. The temptation is to get angry or feel sad but Lorde has taken that opposite approach. The video is simple but effective; the song continues the spirit of her debut album whilst suggesting new influence and possibilities. Green Light is the debut single from her forthcoming sophomore album, Melodrama. There is a winking irony in that title: the mature New Zealander could never be accused of petulance or overreacting. Green Light is the sound of a young woman facing separation but not projecting anxiety – you get a brave spirit channelling potential upset into a physical, exorcised experience. Green is the colour of envy; green, also, is the light that signals ‘go’. I guess that is the inspiration behind the title: the time is now to run and get the spirit racing; not being held back and feeling sorry. A positive message from a young artist who is inspiring many others. That is why I wanted to feature Lorde in this review. She, like Natalie Gray, has that credible and astonishing musical ability that is rare in modern music. She, like Lorde, can win the ear of the critical bosom and go on to enjoy similar success and longevity.
Love songs and the 1980s, when put together, might seem worse than having Piers Morgan lick your neck whilst Donald Trump whispers in your ear – a lunch-projecting image if ever there was one. Maybe that decade was not synonymous with its standout love anthems but it left a remarkable legacy. Natalie Gray, like Shura and Lorde, to an extent, infuse their modern tracks with remnants and flavours of the time. Live in Love is a vivacious thing that races and twirls; it is a physical track designed to engages the body and get the feet tapping. There are so many great, strong women in music do fantastic things. Too often is the way they get overlooked but that has to change. Maybe the likes of Lorde get attention and press but will she ever make it to a festival headline spot? Let’s hope so because artists like her are rare – Natalie Gray is one such example. The reason she gets to me, and warrants huge opportunities, is the way she brings the best of the ‘80s together with modern production and studio values; her alluring-cum-passionate vocals and imaginative, memorable lyrics. I have already talked about Madonna albums that spring to mind – Ray of Light, Like a Virgin; Like a Prayer and True Blue – and that is no mean feat. The pinnacle and summation of Madonna’s career: albums that redefined music and influenced a legion of new artists. Many people are snobbish when we talk of 1980s’ music. Not all of it was a success but there is so much that can be used and revised by modern artists. Natalie Gray takes elements of Madonna and 1980s Pop but takes inspiration from contemporary acts. Mixing these together not only creates something new but summons evocativeness and vivid memories. It seems, ironically, f we want to bring music into the future we have to drag it back to the past.
I’ll end this by talking of Gray and love songs – taking it away from traditional quarters and doing something different. I wish I could excommunicate every artist who comes to the Church of Love and spends their time in the confession booth bleeding their hearts out. There is validity but when EVERYONE is doing it becomes more than your moneys-worth. Natalie Gray and her homonymic belter – Live in Love/a(Live) in Love – is an outward message that is designed for everyone. Whatever you take from the song – greater humanity and consideration; appreciate yourself and what you have – it will leave a definite impression in the mind. It might be far-fetched to suggest all new Pop artists will write songs away from their own troubles but one would like to see some changes come into effect. I’ll leave it here but am always pleased and proud when an artist comes along and does things differently. The only way music is going to push forward is by being original. Yeah, there are some 1980s’ touches through Live in Love but that is part of the charm – it is something music consumers need and have been missing out on. I know Natalie Gray will keep pushing and pounding her way in music. She has the potential and talent to go as far as she wants. When summer gets here – the few days it does show itself – I know gig demands will come. Her official website is being developed/re-tooled and, once done, will give a one-shop portal for new fans to discover what she is about. On social media, she is keeping followers updated and vibing from the positivity Live in Love has accrued thus far. My two-cents’-worth might not be the most glistening and heart-warming review she has received (maybe it is?) but I felt compelled, admittedly a little way after the song release, to proffer my opinions. Define and drill it any way you want, but the fact remains: Natalie Gray is someone who…
HAS a big future ahead of her.
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