Back with a second solo album, following 2003′s Mercury-nominated Quixotic, Martina Topley Bird’s return is not altogether what we were expecting.
One of the leading voices of trip hop thanks to her involvement with one of the genre’s pioneers Tricky, she’s left him behind and teamed up with super-producer Brian ‘Danger Mouse’ Burton.
Sonically, The Blue God is something of a departure from the style we associate with Topley-Bird. While Quixotic picked up on some of the intensity of her collaborative work with Tricky, there are only hints to that side of her on this album. Whether this is down to a change in her, or simply thanks to having a more commercially aware producer is unclear, but there is an unmistakable shift.
There are still hints of her trip-hop past on the superb, bass-heavy Something To Say, as she rhythmically whispers her way through a barren musical landscape. But in addition, she covers a lot of other musical ground from the adorable easy-listening of Da Da Da Da, to the Zero 7-like ambience of Razor Tongue.
Throw in a few feisty pop songs, like the ’60s inspired Baby Blue and recent single Poison and you have an album that’s going to appeal to just about everyone.
If there is a problem with The Blue God, it’s that those of us who are familiar with Topley-Bird’s work expect her to bash through some musical barriers and to test her own boundaries, whereas here it all seems a bit, well, safe. None of the tracks break the four-minute mark, and there’s nothing that feels truly epic.
The closest she gets are on the string-laced Shangri La and album highlight, the ghostly slow-waltz of Valentine. Both tracks feel like they get cut short and should have been fleshed out further. As they stand, the songs flash past too fast, and their immediacy almost makes them disposable. Album closer, Yesterday, is the only challenging track, and after all the straightforward melody that has come before it, finally offers the listener something to try to puzzle through and figure out.
Throughout, Topley-Bird’s voice is gorgeous, soulful and addictive. Tapping into the current trend of contemporary female voices singing songs inspired by the past, she stands apart thanks to her occasional unpredictable melodic hooks and the effortless cool that she always possessed.
It’s a lovely album to listen to, and is surprising in its consistency, but if she can marry up her proven songwriting skills with some harder edges, she could produce something truly classic all of her own.