‘Easy listening’ is certainly one of the most bewildering, paradoxical tags in music. Why on earth should listening to music be easy? At its best it can be exciting, stimulating, impassioning; what sane person settles for a sound that’s the equivalent of a Sunday afternoon kip?
Comfort must be the explanation. A life without challenge is effortless; reassurance of the norm makes one feel at ease with life’s accomplishments. If you don’t try, you won’t fail; don’t read Tolstoy, watch Coronation Street instead. ‘Easy listening’ is the regional soap opera to post-punk’s revolutionary written opus. And whilst millions watch EastEnders, millions also buy albums by the likes of Corinne Bailey Rae, Katie Melua and Norah Jones. The Lucinda Belle Orchestra could be the next artist to join that prestigious list of names.
Lucinda Belle is hotly tipped, and impressively backed, to be the next sound of middle-class dinner parties all across the UK. By blending soulful jazz and gypsy folk-lite with a voice that sounds as commercial as the pinging of cash registers, it’s no mystery why she has just been signed to Universal for a deal that’s reportedly worth around �1.25m. A sum that’s even more astonishing given the fact that Lucinda has most recently been plying her trade in a laundrette, going from dirty rags to riches if you will (ahem).
Lucinda’s main instrument of choice is her beloved harp, one that has drawn many unfairly daunting comparisons with the infinitely bizarre Joanna Newsom. Confusingly, however, the album is dubbed My Voice & 45 Strings, but not once does that supposed idealised vision of her music appear. The closest it gets is the lovely, if not a little soppy, ballad Northern Lights (which incidentally features Ed Harcourt). It’s comparatively sparse next to the rest and it allows Lucinda’s skill as a heartfelt singer to exude pure soul whilst showcasing her apparent talent as a musician. The other songs that feature are a mixed bag, ranging between those of Marilyn Monroe sexiness and pretty lifeless wallpaper music.
The problem with this album isn’t so much the quality of the songs, albeit some are too clich�d for words, but the fact that any original quirkiness or intimacy they once possessed has been trampled all over by major record label production. �The album is so polished you can actually see your face grimace at each overly elaborate string arrangement or superfluous addition of a brass section. Perhaps the temptation was just too great to add layer upon layer of instrumentation when Universal start throwing cash around like so much confetti.
The fact that this album is a ‘swing and miss’ is frustrating given the obvious talent lurking within Lucinda as a musician and her courageously ambitious attempts at composing. If the album were a little darker and a lot more stripped back, it would have surely been one of the landmark victories for the rejuvenated British folk scene this year. There is no denying that My Voice & 45 Strings will be commercial success; perhaps an appearance on Later… with Jools Holland is already lined up and Mothercare’s in-store playlist beckons. But Lucinda Belle is well capable of giving us less of a simple ride, and making ‘easy listening’ a little more difficult.