These are the reviews I dread. Genuinely. I really don’t want to be mean to Claire Sproule. I’m sure she’s a lovely human being. It’s just that her record really isn’t.
Let me just indulge the PR babble that accompanies the CD for a moment. It claims that her father made her listen to Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello. Well she might have listened to them, but if they are trying to imply that all these influences are there to be discovered, I beg to differ. I believe that what she actually did is steal the cassette that B&Q play to their shoppers and add some words.
And words they are, since there is very little lyrical about her prosaic attempts at rhyming couplets. “So many chances to succeed in the world, so how come so many fail?” (Not Who You Think I Am). Very poignant. “I want to be free, be who I can be” (Doin’ It My Way). Inspirational. “God must have been thinking of an angel when he put you on this Earth” (Angel). Spiritual! Or as the PR tells us, her songs capture “the world – in all its bittersweet reality”. Oh really? However, I draw the line at being told that the lyrics contain “honesty”. There is nothing honest about recycling the most mundane homilies about a “crazy, mixed up world” (Flame). Honesty requires a deeper delving into the soul than Sproule shows herself capable of here.
But taking issue with those whose job it is to fawn and flatter is soft targeting. The truth is usually a long way from the spin. The problem is, Claire does not appear to be looking for truth on this album, but some kind of Fame Academy success. I mean, it’s all perfectly acceptable in a Norah Jones kind of way – but this is like Norah without the melodies and the soul. Yes, that bad.
The weakness of the material is perhaps explained by the fact that she wrote it between the ages of 17 and 19 (she’s now 21). This would at least account for the doggerel in the lyric writing, the immature metaphors and the unimaginative tunes. Songs such as Strange World and The Deal reek of banal, homespun philosophies that might play well in Donegal (her home town), but this, unfortunately for her, is a much more grown-up world.
Where I fear that the PR may speak without forked tongue, however, is in describing this as a “thoroughly modern” album. Since the modern world does increasingly seem to make demands on us all to be as inoffensive as possible, it is a point I may reluctantly have to concede. But surely I am not alone in believing that pop music should do the very opposite… Am I?
Claire Sproule – coming soon to a hotel lobby near you. You have been warned.