Natacha Atlas’ voice has been gracing many an album for a few years now – from Transglobal Underground to Jah Wobble, Atlas’ swooping, captivating voice is always a firm guarantee of quality. Understandably then, her solo albums have become something of an event for her fans, and she’s often been tipped as ‘the next big thing’, without ever quite reaching that status.
Yet this time, that prediction could well come true. Something Different is Atlas’ most commercial album yet, with the majority of tracks sung in English and featuring a stellar guest list. Also, with artists as diverse as Blur and Bruce Springsteen using Arabic instrumentation on their recent albums, interest in the North African music scene is high.
Adam’s Lullaby gets the album off to a stately start. Co-written with Jocelyn Pook (who composed the score for Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut), the strings of the Prague Symphony Orchestra mesh with Atlas’ ethereal vocals to lend the track a suitably cinematic feel. It’s lilting, lazy and quite lovely.
Eye Of The Duck couldn’t be more different, being a funky ragga-style dance track with the only failing being the vocals of Tuup – with his cries of “ride de Rhythm” he sounds horribly like Shaggy, and doesn’t quite fit with the sheer class of the rest of the album.
What marks out Something Dangerous, like most of Atlas’ albums, is its eclecticism. It swings easily from the hard dance of Daymalhum to Who’s My Baby, a piece of sweetly soulful R’n'B that puts the likes of Mary J Blige and Ashanti to shame. Elsewhere, Sinead O’Connor (is there any album she hasn’t made a guest appearance on?) lends her unmistakable vocals to Simple Heart, while the title track sounds nicely ominous with its samples of anti-war marches.
The only track which misfires is the cover version of the James Brown classic This Is A Man’s World. Atlas seems to specialise in the quirky cover – I Put A Spell On You was a highlight on her previous album Ayeshteni. Here though, the experiment is less successful. It could be that Brown made the song his own when he recorded it, but Atlas’ version just sounds like a novelty record.
That’s the only criticism of Something Dangerous though – although this is mainstream enough to be commercially palatable, there’s no suggestion that Atlas has sold out her roots. Fans of the belly dancer extraordinaire will obviously lap this up, but this diverse collection of songs may well garner her new admirers too.