Perfectly pleasant fare for the undemanding listener.
Mike Diver 2009
While it’s perfectly evident from any investigation of the charts today that commercial success doesn’t necessarily correlate with critical praise, there’s something to be said for knocking the pop juggernaut of Take That from the top of the pile, as Brighton-based singer Kate Walsh managed with her previous album, Tim’s House.
That was in 2007, and the chart in question was the iTunes one – Walsh had benefited from being featured as the downloads-provider’s single of the week, but no artist gets to number one on the back of a few free tracks. Her fans responded to the album amazingly, and as such expectations in the ranks are high for this third long-player, featuring guest turns from Turin Brakes and The Longpigs’ Crispin Hunt.
Mining the same harmonies that served her past albums well, Walsh’s MO might not have changed but her ambition to weave densely-packed compositions is beginning to achieve fruition. There are delightful layers to a handful of these arrangements, suggesting their writer is capable of delivering a much bigger sound than many modern folk contemporaries. That said, instrumental detail never obscures the straightforward vocals, ostensibly centred on matters of the heart and rarely straying from a lulling coo stylistically. Truth be told, across a full album Walsh’s vocals can be a little too saccharine.
But simple-of-message songs like Be Mine (self-explanatory, surely) and June Last Year’s expressing of longing for a would-be beau oblivious to our protagonist’s affections have a certain charm about them – by never over-complicating her narratives, Walsh paints a relatively pleasing picture of modern romance, with hardly a wart to be seen. Hurt is expressed via easily understood analogies that distance the reality from the record, and as a result there’s little wallowing in self-pity; this despite potentially cutting lines like “You’re that part of me that can sting like 1,000 bees”.
While her chart success might suggest Walsh is a pop star in waiting, Light & Dark isn’t finely tuned to the trends of today. It’s an album out of step with fashion, full of its maker’s folk influences and idiosyncrasies so slight that truly standing out from the crowd is unlikely. But it’s perfectly pleasant fare for the undemanding listener, and several leagues ahead of the Melua-factory female artists still active in the UK.