Former BRIT School student Charlene Soraia is the latest in a long line of female artists to fashion a stripped-down, minimalistic cover of a well-known song – often for advertisement purposes. It’s a trend that has been going on for a while now. Ellie Golding, Birdy and more recently Slow Moving Millie are just a few of the artists who have also followed a similar route. The end result is almost always a guaranteed chart hit.
It’s certainly a method that worked for London-based Soraia. Her cover of The Calling’s classic hit, Wherever You Will Go, reached Number 3 in the UK Singles chart after being featured in an advert for Twinings tea. The song provided the 22-year-old with an instant fanbase and the platform to release her debut album, Moonchild. However, those hoping Soraia’s album would resemble the sound of her breakthrough cover, will be sadly disappointed.
If the mellow Wherever You Will Go implied that Soraia’s album would be a warm and comforting companion while drinking a cup of tea in front of the fire place, then album opener, When We Were Five, instantly dismisses any such notion. The eerie track begins with a screeching wail that will pierce even the most resilient ear drum. To say that it is unpleasant is putting it mildly. Fortunately, it is only brief. The following six minutes present the listener with an obscure, but spell-binding soundscape, one that shifts considerably in tone and tempo during its running time.
In fact, Soraia’s influences alone suggest that there is a lot more to her than first meets the eye, “I was raised on Bob Dylan but I never got it. It wasn’t until I discovered David Bowie that I knew what I really liked.” She cites the likes of King Crimson’s Robert Fripp and David Gilmour among her influences for her instrument of choice, the guitar, which she first picked up at the tender age of five. Her exquisite command of the guitar is confirmed during Daffodil – a song previously released on one of Soraia’s early EPs. It’s a blissful follow-up to the haunting opener, with Soraia’s precision picking complementing her beautifully mournful vocals, for a bittersweet effect.
Yet the album revels during its more upbeat moments, such as the effervescent Lightyears or the infectious Bipolar, a song that reflects the paradoxical feelings of joy and despondency that her music often imbues. The plodding piano and repetitive beat go hand-in-hand with Soraia’s buoyant vocals, while her lyrics are simultaneously heartening and distressing, “I think I’ll have a baby / with a man who beats me / who abuses and confuses me / and also threatens to kill me.” Postcards From iO – one of the album’s highlights – sees Soraia channel her inner Laura Marling, with an instantly memorable, up-tempo chorus. The acoustic guitar builds slowly, with Soraia’s vocals possessing more bite here, than anywhere else on Moonchild.
The jaunty acoustics of the shortest track on the album, Midsummer Moon In June, add some light relief to an album that often feels weighed down by the ethereal atmosphere that Soraia strives to create. It’s a problem that Soraia’s emotive warbling, at times, compounds – as demonstrated by Wishing You Well. The piano laden ballad, Almost Stole A Book, draws the album towards an unremarkable and hesitant conclusion, with Wherever You Will Go tacked on to the end as a bonus track. However, as is so often the case with such covers, it really has no place on Moonchild.
There’s a lot to like about Soraia’s debut album. Her vocals are impressive throughout, even if there is the occasional, and completely unnecessary, unearthly squeal. She is also an incredibly talented guitarist, with her intricate finger picking providing the perfect basis for her heavenly vocals. Moonchild, though, is burdened by an overwhelming sound of melancholy that Soraia rarely wavers from throughout the album. Yet there is enough potential on Moonchild to suggest that Charlene Soraia is better than a one-hit-wonder. And with at least another albums worth of material already prepared, there is evidently much more to come.