Reality TV, normally the home for the talent-free and permanently deluded, seemed to unearth a bit of a gem when Alex Parks won the second series of BBC’s Fame Academy. A far cry from the charisma-lite, perma-grinning wannabes that the genre usually churns out, Parks was openly gay, slightly surly, and could actually sing.
Her debut album, Introduction, was rather too heavy on the cover versions that made her name, but tracks such as Cry and Maybe That’s What It Take seemed to herald a genuine talent. Two years later, a long time in the fickle world of pop music of course, she’s reappeared with an album consisting entirely of original material.
So has she done enough to shake off the reality TV tag and join Will Young, Lemar and Girls Aloud in the grown-up world of pop? Well, on the basis of Honesty, the signs are not good. Although there are some good points, the vast majority of the album is almost unremittingly drab, being filled with colourless ballads that could leave one reaching for the Paracetamols and razor blades.
One of the biggest surprises here is the fact that on Honesty, Parks’ voice sounds almost unbelievably irritating. It starts off well, in fact on the trip-hop flavoured opening track Lie, she’s a dead ringer for Tracey Thorn – and there aren’t many better singers than the Everything But The Girl vocalist. Yet by the time the album’s into its second half, Parks voice is both grating and characterless.
This is probably due to the lack of variety on display here. Although she made her name with ballads, that’s no reason to overstuff the album with them. Taken in small doses, some of the tracks are quite pleasant – the fragile Out Of Touch is lovely and the Marcella Detroit co-written highlight of Lost Without A Name injects a much needed dose of passion. However, as the album plods on and on, anonymous, dreary songs such as Truth Or Dare and Sweeter And Sweeter give the album a deathly monochromatic hue.
There are two numbers here though that show what Parks is capable of, given an opportunity to cut loose. The title track dares to actually raise the tempo, and the change in atmosphere is almost shocking. Suddenly, there’s a lightness of touch that’s almost perky, and Parks sounds like a much happier singer. It’s not exactly rocking out, but it’s a blessed relief from the lovesick ballads that are prevalent.
The second highlight of the record is actually a hidden, bonus track. Tail And All appears some 10 minutes after Moment finishes and sounds totally different to anything else on the album. A French-flavoured samba rhythm drives the song along and Parks sounds like she’s in her element. It’s wonderful, and a frustrating glance at what could have been.
That sense of a missed opportunity hangs heavy over Honesty – it could have been great, with well respected songwriters such as Judie Tzuke and Detroit and a producer of the calibre of Greg Wells (the man behind Rufus Wainwright‘s magnificent Poses album). Sadly, it’s very far from great and Parks is going to have to have a major rethink if she’s not to become another casualty of the reality TV curse.