A clever covers set from the 15-year-old singer, which points to a great future.
Nick Levine 2011-11-04
The word "haunting" is common as gossip in pop criticism – wont to tag everything from Phil Collins' chocolate flogger In the Air Tonight to the Eminem murder ballad that references it, Stan. But there's really no other word to describe the record that gave Birdy wings. Released back in January, her voice-and-piano cover of Bon Iver's Skinny Love, as economical as it is evocative, became a Radio 1 favourite and unexpected top 20 hit.
Since then, the 15-year-old from Hampshire – Jasmine Van den Bogaerde to her form tutor – has stripped back songs by The xx (Shelter) and Cherry Ghost (People Help the People), setting the template for this debut album. Here, she tackles so many Pitchfork favourites – Phoenix's 1901, The National's Terrible Love, Fleet Foxes' White Winter Hymnal – that it's tempting to speculate whether Foals politely declined when she asked to cover Spanish Sahara. Of course, even the hippest indie kid dips into daddy's soft rock collection when he's not looking, which is presumably why Fire & Rain by James Taylor – the oldest song here by three decades – also appears.
For its 11 tracks, a trio of knob-twiddlers as trendy as the track selection – Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys), Rich Costey (Franz Ferdinand) and James Ford (Klaxons) – keep things intimate and slightly shivery. However, many songs boast a more robust production than Skinny Love; Birdy's piano chords are often cloaked in an alluring veil of reverberation, and embellished with strings, vocal overdubs and even a few drum loops. However, when the record threatens to stray into MOR territory, it’s set straight by Birdy's vocals, as pure and emotionally resonant as teardrops trickling down unblemished skin.
Does this teenage siren really appreciate the lyrics she's singing, mostly written by men twice her age? That's a matter of conjecture, but the LP's sole original – an ambiguous break-up song called Without a Word – suggests her emotional intensity is no pose. Either way, it's hard not to declare the record an admittedly limited success – what’s here points to a brighter future for Birdy than the last British female to pique curiosity with a clever covers set. Besides, at 15, she already seems far too self-possessed to make an ass of herself at the Brit Awards.