Friday, 8 November 2013

Review: 'Samson & Delilah' by V V Brown

Things haven't gone exactly smoothly for V V Brown's musical career. After her retro-pop influenced debut album Travelling Like The Light in 2009, she was set to release a follow-up titled Lollipops & Politics in 2012. The concept album which would've dealt with political themes but with a pop-friendly approach (hence the somewhat awkward name) was actually recorded, and a lead single "Children" was released. However, even though the album was apparently finished and even a tracklist was revealed, she then decided to scrap the whole album, not being satisfied with the results and chose to return to the studio, creating another album from scratch. To the disappointment of her fans, the initial second album is likely to remain unreleased.

But the 'new second album' was more than worth the wait. Instead of sounding like Travelling Like The Light 2.0 which seemed rather inevitable with Lollipops & Politics and its lead single "Children", V V Brown takes us to a completely new direction with her brilliant Samson & Delilah. Biblical stories are often used as allegories for something else, and so it is also here: In V V Brown's version of events it is the music industry that is portrayed as the backstabbing, deceitful Delilah who betrays Samson, described by Brown as the exploited artist. That is essentially the concept around which the album was apparently built. Fittingly, the album release was preceded by lead single "Samson" that immediately told us that we were to expect something completely unexpected from her. Gone was the naive playfulness of her previous material. Instead, her music was now electronic-oriented, artistically ambitious and rather solemn.

Some were even speaking of a comeback. Sure, four years is a long gap in today's music business where artists have to stay constantly present in the media to remain relevant, but this is more than a comeback. This is a reinvention. From the ambient, hymn-like opener "Substitute of Love" it is evident to the listener that this is a new exploration for V V Brown, a venture into whole new realms. It then segues to the second track, "Nothing Really Matters". I know what you thinking, "where have I heard these names before?" And the answer is on Madonna's 1998 masterpiece Ray of Light. Brown herself shrugged this off as a coincidence, but there are some really interesting parallels between the two albums nevertheless. Both saw pop songstresses reinventing themselves with a solid spiritual electronic album, and this can easily been as a similar turning point for Brown's artistic direction.

Indeed, the record is a very cohesive one, and it's hard to pick highlights from such a strong collection of songs. Both the intense singles, "Samson" and "The Apple" are obviously very good choices: the former is a dramatic interpretation of the biblical story, while the latter is a triumphant electropop stomper that doubles as an empowering statement of independence, perhaps from the music industry itself: "Don't patronize me, I'm not your clown / Don't cause me suffering, it's over now" she chants with a determined voice and you'd better believe her.

"I Can Give You More" is another highlight with amazing instrumentals, and while I wasn't so sure about the choppy vocals before, they've started to grow on me. The aforementioned "Nothing Really Matters" sees Brown channelling Grace Jones with some very rich contralto vocals. "Igneous" is a gritty, powerful number with a slightly more urban sound and even features a rap verse towards the end of the song. Sounds like it could be awkward - I mean, aren't rap verses a bit mid-2000s? - but surprisingly it plays out really well.

Having cited The Knife as one of the key influences among others for Samson & Delilah, it's not surprising that there are some very dreamy songs on the album, such as the ethereal "Looking For Love". "Knife" is a gorgeous ballad that tells a story of a failed relationship experienced by a friend of Brown's, where the titular knife is a metaphor as opposed to an actual knife: "Like the knife of a murderer you're hurting me more and more". There is, however, some hope in the lyrics as well, a light in the end of the tunnel: "Maybe I'll get it right, get it right next time."

"Ghosts" is a glorious anthem that could be a forgotten power ballad from the '80s. Among the somewhat more melancholic songs it is an uplifting, emotional listen that serves as yet another highlight. (Honestly, this is an album full of highlights.) And then there's the album closer "Beginning", a stunning minimalistic piece and the longest track on the album, clocking at just over six minutes.

Music is at its best when the music itself is allowed to do the talking, instead of excessive hype and desperate self-boasting. Samson & Delilah is a truly artistic pop album that doesn't need any of that because it stands out on itself with a strong vision that is carried throughout - the only song that doesn't quite live up to this is the mediocre "Faith" that features some less-than-spectacular male vocals and doesn't really get anywhere or receive a proper build-up, but that's as close as this LP gets to a filler. That is to say, this is a phenomenal album overall.

Does it get the praise or the media attention that it deserves? No. It hasn't been promoted as massively as many other pop albums out there. Although, Brown did get a chance to perform on Later... with Jools Holland where she sang a couple of songs including "The Apple" and it was incredible (as I wrote before). Samson & Delilah is a beautiful record that genuinely feels like an art-meets-pop experience and establishes V V Brown as one of the most creative and ambitious singer-songwriters at the moment. This is one of the most important albums of the year and certainly a serious contender for the best of 2013. You would do wisely to not skip it.

4½ / 5

Try at least: Well, anything really but especially "The Apple", "Ghosts", "Nothing Really Matters", "Knife"

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