From psychedelic soul to raucous rock, this big, sprawling album bounces between genres and flies off in directions you’d never expect. It is the sound of an artist reborn
You probably think you know Corinne Bailey Rae – the Yorkshire singer still best known for her 2006 track Put Your Records On from her eponymous chart topping debut album, a purveyor of classy, soul-pop that may still accompany dinner parties. Nice, pleasant, probably no surprises. Until now, that is. Black Rainbows is a huge change in direction for Corinne Bailey Rae, a big, sprawling album that bounces between genres and flies off in directions you’d never expect. From psychedelic soul to raucous rock, this is Bailey Rae as you’ve never heard her before.
Black Rainbows was inspired by an exhibition by artist Theaster Gates at a museum in Chicago, exploring Black history through the ages. It had a profound effect on Bailey Rae, and you can feel the emotion powering through all the tracks on the album. Take Erasure, for example – a big, powerful rocker of a track, which swings pretty close to heavy metal at times: Bailey Rae’s vocals deliberately distorted as she sings of black children being erased and forgotten – “they put out lit cigarettes down your sweet throat… they fed you to the alligators”. It’s less than three minutes long and you feel like you’ve been pummelled in the gut after it’s finished. New York Transit Queen is another short, sharp blast of rock – full of handclaps, serrated guitar riffs and a cheerleader-style chanted chorus that immediately buries itself in your brain. It’s one of many tracks on Black Rainbows that will have you checking you’ve put on the right album, so far removed is it from Bailey Rae’s previous work.
But it’s not by any means all angry rock. He Will Follow You With His Eyes is a jazzy ballad in the mould of Frank-era Amy Winehouse, with some off-kilter, eerie electronica effects coated all over the track. Put It Down is probably the most ambitious, dramatic track on Black Rainbows, a languid eight minute long RnB workout which builds steadily and dramatically as the song progresses. Then there’s the piano ballad Peach Velvet Sky, which feels like another left turn on an album full of them, a sad yet uplifting song based on the life of Harriet Jacobs who was born into slavery and became a prominent abolitionist and writer. On the other side of the spectrum is the title track, a discordant electro-jazz number, complete with saxophone and the kind of incessant percussion you could imagine Radiohead playing with in their more obtuse moments.
When an album has as many gear changes as this, the first few listens may well be a bit disorientating for some, and it’s true that some tracks, such as the closing Before The Throne Of The Invisible God feel a bit more like half-formed jams than songs at first. Yet the ambition and creativity of Black Rainbows can’t be faulted, and throughout the record, Bailey Rae sounds like an artist reborn. It may not be what you expect, but it’s all the better for that. Without a doubt, it is the best album of Bailey Rae’s career, and quite probably one of the albums of 2023 as well.