It would be easy to be a bit cynical about Gabrielle Aplin. She’s a noted “YouTube sensation” – which is guaranteed to make anyone over the age of 12 slightly suspicious. And she’s best known for her covers; as well as her YouTube renditions of songs by Paramore, The Killers and Katy Perry, she soundtracked last year’s weepy John Lewis Christmas advert with a version of Frankie Goes To Hollywood‘s classic The Power Of Love.
From hearing this, you’d think it was all a bit reminiscent of the oddly popular Birdy, the last teenage sensation to specialise in ‘sensitive’, stripped-down renditions of popular songs. Yet Aplin is a much different proposition. For a start, her debut album has just one cover version (that FGTH song, inevitably), and she’s co-written the remaining 11 songs with a variety of songwriters, mainly Nick Atkinson, formerly the frontman to little remembered indie-rockers Rooster.
Aplin’s songs sit firmly in the folk-pop template, and are immediate, catchy and radio-friendly. There’s a definite similarity to Amy Macdonald, especially in some of her vocal phrasing, and on the lovely, goosebump-inducing Home, there’s even a nod to Elena Tonra of Daughter. And, although this is probably stretching the comparisons a bit too far, there are some parallels to be drawn with the similarly ‘old beyond her years’ Laura Marling, especially on the standout Please Don’t Say You Love Me.
In fact, the biggest compliment that can be paid to Aplin’s songwriting is that her cover of The Power Of Love sounds a bit out of place here – it’s very pretty, as anyone who’ll remember those present-buying snowpeople will testify – but it’s a bit lightweight and forgettable, especially when compared to the magnificent original. Tracks like Panic Cord and the beautiful Salvation are far more representative of Aplin’s talents.
Now and again, it does tend to fall into the post-Mumford And Sons genre of ‘anthemic stadium folk’ with massed choral vocals and uplifting strings, with Human and Ready To Question sounding a bit like like Lumineers/Of Monsters And Men cast-offs. Yet while there’s obviously an eager market for earnestly rousing ‘authentic’ music, English Rain gives the impression that there’s a bit more to Aplin than that.
English Rain is rather too long, but the current vogue for squeezing in ‘bonus tracks’ and ‘deluxe editions’ means that’s all but inevitable. While it’s undoubtedly a good showcase for Aplin’s songwriting talents, it does make the album as a whole drag a bit. Which is a shame, as with a few of the filler tracks removed, this could have been an extremely good introduction to Aplin. As it is, English Rain remains a fine, if sometimes middle-of-the-road, debut album with plenty of signs of promise. Given Aplin’s age (she’s just turned 20), it’s a mature, lovingly well-crafted set of songs. If she can add a bit more passion to the mix next time, she could turn in something a bit special.