Katie Melua’s new album “Secret Symphony” is out, and making an impression all over Europe – the initial territories we are concentrating on. It’s a happy album, and doesn’t try to be edgy for edgy’s sake. See below my thoughts on the fact that – despite many great critiques, some critics haven’t understood…
What is it with reviewers? One guy, who, reviewing the live concert after Katie’s “House” album said
“The House itself and The Flood (are) signposts to a troubled soul, together with other dark echoes, particularly on Twisted. Nobody could regard Katie Melua as bland any more”. This time around, the same reviewer bemoans the lighter and happier tone of Secret Symphony, saying that, on the previous album she had ““showed an artist finally flowering and channeling that imperious voice into dark but enchanting songs” but concluding that she has returned, on this opus , to blandness.
If he were reviewing chocolate or wine, I can see that his taste for darkness might be relevant. Katie has been through dark times. When I first met her the first 3 songs she played me had 3 deaths, a rape and a pregnant suicide bomber between them. She was 18 years old. Now, - about to be married, and having survived a nasty breakdown involving hospitalization, she has come out into the light and is singing happy songs, albeit not predominantly as a songwriter (except for the enchanting “Forgetting All My Troubles” solely by her and two songs co written with me) - and I’ve never seen her happier both with her music and her life. I feel like crying with happiness for her.
Our reviewer likes her when she’s “dark”. What is he, an ambulance chaser? If the black dog is in the room, the art will be great? Is that the premise of this unpleasant jubilation in the outpouring of “darkness”? Why do critics think they can legitimately expect artists to “grow” towards their own (the journalist’s) tastes? Why can’t Katie decide to make an album which doesn’t put on her the heavy, difficult burden of authorship, (following in the footsteps of Dusty Springfield, Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin) - but allows her to sing – something she does better than anyone I know. I know stuff that the press don’t know, so I feel It more strongly than they would, but I have also worked with some of the world’s greatest singers. She is better than, or as good as, the best of any of those I’ve worked with over 40 years. Katie isn’t doing an impression of a retro American blues artist – unlike the odious Amy Winehouse (who hated Katie) , the delightful and brilliant Adele or the redneck-American-accented Elton John, who writes fabulous tunes but has never written a lyric in his life. Nice bloke, brilliant performer- give me an hour on that subject.
She said, in a moment of weakness in a recent doco-style promo film, that on this album, she wanted to “sing her heart out”. One reviewer took issue, said she doesn’t. You know, you don’t have to be singing the big note on “The Flood” or the first line of “Set Fire To The Rain” to be singing your heart out. You can do it quietly. Listen carefully to Katie in concert, singing “Lilac Wine” or on this album, singing “Gold In Them Hills” or “The Cry Of The Lone Wolf”. Don’t tell me she isn’t singing her heart out.
Thanks, however to those who HAVE seen the glory in Katie’s new opus, starting with the Sunday Express reviewer who gave 5 stars and said she is “reassuring her fans that an artist who has had her fair share of problems in the last few years is right back on track”.
Early entries into midweek charts all over Europe (which may change for better or worse next week) show her as top five in Germany, France, Holland, Poland, and top ten in UK . That’s an astonishing showing for week one, fifth album, on an indie label. What it means is that she is loved. And she is.
If you are a doubter, I understand. But go and see her live --like I saw her touring the States 4 years ago with just her own guitar, doing a 90 minute set for 500 mid-Americans a night, - who normally couldn’t give a shit. You could have heard a pin drop, and NOBODY bought a drink, even in a mid-West cowboy bar, until her final, gorgeous and unique note. She is stupendous. Quiet, strong, centered, magical, and totally riveting.
Forgive my passion. I got lucky when I met her. Some say it was mutual. Maybe it was. I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about her.