Published on March 9th, 2012

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.


  1. Posted by Stintfang on March 10th, 2012, 07:45

    Thanks for this great article, Mike. But more thanks of bundling your skills with Katie again. For me, the “package” Katie Melua was always her, with her beautiful and so well controlled voice, plus your arrangements, which supports her voice much more. This is, what I call “Synergy”.
    On “The House” it took me weeks to fully adopt the album, for “Secret Symphony” it took only three tracks and I felt “Home”. No wonder, that I have the album on continous repeat. Unfortunately the album lasts only 37 minutes. So I hear it quite often, keeping the dream alive.
    After seeing her on the telly a couple of times I must say that she now has such a glorious aura around her, that even well trained TV hosts seem too be nervous to find the right questions to ask.
    She definitely didn`t make a step back, but a huge leap forward and I wish her all the best for her marriage and she doesn`t retire working and will release more albums (after a baby pause perhaps) with Dramatico.
    If I should rate the album I would give it a full “thumbs up”.

  2. Posted by Chris Galvin on March 11th, 2012, 09:26

    Katie really is the most gifted singer I have ever heard, especially live. I really hope there’s a UK tour of sorts with this album. Love the choice of songs on this one too. I’m a big Ron Sexsmith fan and the production on GITH with Katie’s amazing vocals really have pushed that song into a whole new level. Production on every song is top notch, you should be really proud of this one Mike. There is so much crap in the charts nowadays, it’s great to see a proper artist singing proper songs fighting for the top spot. Album of the year so far for me.

  3. Posted by Ormand Jones on March 17th, 2012, 23:15

    The whole album is beyond wonderful. Is it better than “Call Off the Search”, or “Piece by Piece” or “Pictures”? Really, are there varying degrees of perfection? I think my favourite track is the title-track, though. Simply breathtaking! When my disc finally gets here (Canada) there will be a glowing review on Amazon.


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