I possibly ruin the chances of a career with the NME with this admission but I love the X-Factor. The Saturday-night talent show scores high on sheer entertainment value from the bitching between judges Simon Cowell, Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh to the embarrassing audition attempts by the deluded and talentless. It is reality TV at its best. Besides, I never really wanted to write for the NME anyway.
For those who share my guilty pleasure you may remember Rowetta, the former Happy Mondays backing vocalist with the big voice, big hair and big personality, who reached fourth place in last year’s series. Described by Cowell as a loose cannon, she made compulsive viewing and her voice was undeniably something special. Her turbulent past, which made perfect tabloid fodder, simply helped to fuel the soap opera that is reality television.
A year on from the first series and Rowetta has released her eponymous debut solo album. Predictably it is primarily cover versions, but that is perhaps what her audience demands. There are three original tracks, which she has co-written and these definitely hint at some songwriting potential. The album covers a variety of styles, ballads, show tunes, disco and soul are all present but due to bland production, this debut, which could have promised more, sounds disappointingly samey.
Rowetta’s voice sounds as powerful as ever, but by track 18 it is easy to grow a little weary of yet another big belter. Still, fans of classic tracks such as Hello Detroit and West Side Story’s Somewhere will not be disappointed by her vocal interpretations. What dilutes Rowetta’s efforts, however, is poor musical arrangement. Predictable string and brass arrangements sound synthetic, creating the sound of a slightly more sophisticated karaoke backing track.
Disco and funk tracks such as Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground and the camp disco single And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going are two of the album’s most uplifting moments, and suggest that this is the best direction for Rowetta as a potential charting act to move commercially. However her version of Oasis‘ Stop Crying Your Heart Out sounds flat, demonstrating that she is perhaps better advised to steer away from modern tracks. An Eleanor Rigby cover doesn’t work all that well either, although it is a creative interpretation of the original, which is to be admired.
Reality show music acts are much derided in the media, but there have been as many successes as failures. Will Young, Liberty X, Multi-Mobo winning Lemar and Girls Aloud have all managed to break out of the TV-show mould and carve successful careers in their own right. Rowetta has discovered a second chance through the X-Factor and although she has the voice and personality to join the TV talent success stories, this album is unlikely to help her stay the distance.