The NZ singer’s first attempt at international recognition is an assured affair.
Mike Diver 2011
Brooke Fraser is a 27-year-old platinum-selling singer-songwriter from New Zealand. Her third album, the very disc in question here, shifted enough copies to go gold in its very first week on release, last year. That amount: 7,500. Big in New Zealand, then: not really any great shakes anywhere else in the world.
To be fair to Fraser, you work with what you’re given, and anyone who keeps Bruno Mars from the number one spot – as she did when this album’s lead track, Something in the Water, topped the NZ singles chart in the autumn of 2010 – is worthy of investigation, as much through gratitude than any genuine curiosity. And she’s not resting on any domestic laurels, either – Flags is her stab at international recognition, written in North Carolina and California and recorded at Los Angeles’ East West Studios. It’s self-produced, and well, too – clearly this is an artist comfortable with her craft, confident of the direction it’s taking.
For the most part, Flags impresses through its more intimate arrangements, songs like Ice on Her Lashes and the Aqualung-featuring Who Are We Fooling?. The former finds Fraser delivering a strong, confident vocal singing of separation over a skeletal backing that’s so barely there to begin with it has a feather-touch on the senses; the latter is a piano-led duet which delivers real emotion through its lines of "failures and faults holding us together". Something in the Water is a bit of a non-event compared with much of what follows, its light country overtones and strum-along immediacy the spit of any girl-with-guitar fare to have graced the mainstream airwaves over the past decade (see also: Coachella, named after the American music festival). But it’s hardly offensive, and pretty enough to comprise a decent-enough introductory cut.
The more sprightly offerings splash in shallows when held against the slower, more introspective material Fraser is evidently capable of, but a little light is certainly appreciated across a 12-track set that might otherwise seem a little too serious for its own good. So, Jack Kerouac sings of escape, of hitting the road like the titular author, and shimmies to a funky guitar motif that wouldn’t sound out of place coming out of a Kingston café (Jamaica, not Greater London). Where it’s buoyant of mood, Sailboats is contrastingly downbeat, but seductively so, and Crows + Locusts is perhaps the most bleakly beautiful of all these songs. All in all, there’s enough here to suggest that eventually going gold in the UK mightn’t be beyond Fraser’s reach – and that’s just the 100,000 copies, since you asked.