This album isn’t going to change the world, but it’s a very pleasant surprise.
Ben Wood 2007
For many people (including me), Gabrielle has always seemed a mite middle of the road, her well-crafted soul-pop winning her a permanent berth on daytime radio alongside Celine, Mariah and co.
However, maybe the relative failure of her last album Play To Win has inspired the formerly eyepatched one to take a few more risks. Her voice - more conversational than the foghorn favoured by many modern R’n’B singers – is still instantly recognisable. But on Always, it is wrapped around a more eclectic, better-produced, funkier set of songs.
The production takes it out of Magic FM land and into more interesting waters. And maybe it’s the influence of the sainted Kanye West, but there’s a definite early 70s soul vibe. However, the lyrics are still a slight weak point, tending towards the prosaic and the therapy-speakish at times.
The first single from what the singer has described as her ‘break-up album’ is “Why”, quoting Wild Wood and featuring the voice and guitar of Mr Weller himself; while Gabrielle’s voice seems raspier, with a touch of Macy Gray. The prominent strings introduce one of the album’s central motifs.
“Always” is another tale of a shattered relationship, its updated ‘70s soul feel strengthened by harp, cooing backing vocals, hip-hoppy beats, and a chiming guitar hook.
“Heartbreaker”’s Primal Screamesque rock/soul stomp is more evidence of the unexpected. This unashamed party track starts with a beat filched from Bobby and co’s “Rocks”, while “When We Were One” is another meditation on loss, as hip-hop beats mesh with strings once more.
“Closure”’s break-up blues places churchy organ against a funky backbeat. It’s simple, dignified and effective, Gabrielle refusing to over-emote, and demonstrating that less is more.
“Every Little Teardrop” seems to take its melody from Lenny Kravitz’s “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over”. It’s not the album’s strongest track, but that’s no crime in such company. This album isn’t going to change the world, but it’s a very pleasant surprise.