Filed under: album, review, video | Tags: 2009, katy knight, music, nerina pallot
The Graduate •••½
“I wasn’t built for too much philosophising,” Nerina Pallot muses at one point on The Graduate, “I get tired of thinking about things”. That may be true, but it’s clear that a lot of reflection and thought has gone into the Jersey-born singer-songwriter’s long-awaited third album – her first since 2005’s Fires – an unsurprising fact given the life-changing events of the past four years. Not only did she bravely interrupt the momentum provided by previous hits ‘Everybody’s Gone To War’ and ‘Sophia’ to go back to university and complete a degree in English Literature, she also married a man to whom she became engaged within half an hour of dating. This blend of incisive reflection and reckless romance – a deep engagement with the emotions as much as the intellect, though perhaps not both at the same time – is present throughout the knowingly titled The Graduate.
In keeping with this boldness, after various (and no doubt expensive) flirtations with co-writers Pallot wound up ditching all notions of collaboration, culling down the playlist from an impressive 60 candidates to focus on her own songwriting. The 13 tracks that made the final cut may have all been penned by Pallot, but they willingly invite comparisons with a diverse range of artists, running the ballsy singer-songwriter gamut from Elton John to Regina Spektor. In fact, if Sheryl Crow and Regina Spektor were to co-write a tribute to Elton, the result would not be dissimilar to tracks such as ‘Everything’s Illuminated’ or ‘I Don’t Want To Go Out’, a contrary Scissor Sisters-style anthem to staying in, or perhaps to having a good time despite one’s own intentions. The album as a whole is fairly introspective, though framed in a decidedly upbeat mood, mixing an affable anecdotal lyrical style with slightly clunky literary references; ‘Everything’s Illuminated!’ is presumably a nod to the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, yet in the same song, Shakespeare’s greatest existential coward gets an extended though unspoken namecheck with the line, “like a whore unpack my heart”. This blending of registers sometimes seems a little cumbersome, a tension alluded to in the “words from some old book / laying lonely on a shelf” of ‘Coming Home’; emotional wisdom remains something to be found in first and foremost in people rather than in pages.
Certainly, selfhood is a recurring theme throughout the album (‘When Did I Become Such A Bitch’, ‘It Was Me’), a theme which Pallot broadens out to cover Englishness in ‘English’, a track which sounds like Kate Bush writing a letter to the ‘Have Your Say’ column in The Sun. In the Regina Spektor vein, the album includes a piano-led ballad (‘God Of Small Things’, a title borrowed from Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize-winning political novel) speculating on the nature of the Almighty, which, in the Regina Spektor vein, manages to be both genuinely touching and cringingly po-faced. But the highlight of the album has to be the glorious ‘Junebug’, which sounds like CocoRosie writing a song for Girls Aloud (a pairing which really ought to be found more often), or ‘Coming Home’, which has the amiability and pace of Lily Allen with the tunesmithery of Coldplay. Those seeking another ‘Sophia’ may be disappointed, and the lyrical content is somewhat lightweight, but these tunes have staying power. Pallot may end her album with a tribute to life’s little pleasures (“science and the saints and all that stuff like gravity”), but it’s the large degree of talent displayed throughout the album that makes The Graduate gleam with promise.
UK release date: 05/10/09; www.myspace.com/nerinapallot
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