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Charlotte Church Back to Scratch Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

At its best when The Song is more important than The Voice.

Fraser McAlpine 2010

Having an empirically good singing voice must be a terrible burden at times. The expectation is that you can sing anything and make it beautiful; any daft lyric, any stunning classic, anything from Wagner to N-Dubz. If you’ve got The Voice, you can make it shine.

Trouble is, you also need to be able to sell the thing you’re singing at the emotional pitch the song demands. Some songs need to be sung by people with voices, or ways of phrasing words, that are not yours. This can only lead to raised expectations, and a greater risk of disappointment.

The best example of this here is Charlotte’s string-laden cover of Joni Mitchell’s River (hidden after the last track proper), which only serves to prove what a great delivery Mitchell has as a singer. Charlotte’s operatic precision and very properly dropped consonants don’t have nearly the same effect.

Back to Scratch is an album that works best in fragments. There are songs which hark back to Charlotte’s teenage years, spent belting out arias and show tunes in front of an orchestra, and there are more modest songs with ukuleles and mandolins – We Were Young is a particularly lovely example. There are fun songs with light lyrics and deep songs with purple lyrics. There’s even a song – Ruby – which has been recorded to sound like a dusty old jazz 45. You might love all of it, but possibly not in one sitting.

Charlotte even delivers the songs in a bitty fashion: jumping from vocal register to vocal register, swooping down to a mooey low note and then vaulting up to a tweety squeak. Unravelling is a particularly notable victim of this. There’s probably an impressive technical reason for doing it, but it can be incredibly distracting, especially when a lot of these songs seem to have been written from a very personal place.

Back to Scratch ultimately succeeds when The Song is put before The Voice, a mutually beneficial arrangement which takes pressure off The Singer, and lets The Audience get on with enjoying The Album in peace.

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