With last year’s crop of big-voiced young women cleaning up at awards ceremonies, it’s only natural that record companies might try to repeat their success. Just as Duffy was marketed as a more ’60s Winehouse, Kitchenware’s offering, Karima Francis, is a more earnest Adele.
On the surface, Karima is a somewhat asexual, scruffy urchin type, a great birds’ nest of backcombed hair and skinny jeans hiding a sensitive, earnest, soul. All very Tracy Chapman – a comparison that this collection of acoustic-backed emotion will only foster. From the album’s outset, it’s clear that Francis’ unique selling point is a huge voice which, when employed to good effect, swoops and soars with acrobatic, muscular grace.
Like Tracy Chapman and Adele, Francis seems to put great store in the confessional, personal and true nature of her words. “I want to tell you a story about a girl who laid her words out before me”, she belts out at the start of The Author. But so personal are the lyrics their meaning becomes somewhat confusing to the casual listener: “I am the author and you are the queen, you hold more pages than I have ever seen”. Apparently the subject of the track (Elizabeth II) has just started reading War and Peace, and by the sound of it, this development is causing Francis some upset. You can tell because her voice sounds pained.
After the soporific title track, Chasing The Morning Light is a promisingly upbeat number, with a faint whiff of Thin Lizzy about the introduction. And Francis is a protracted but hummable note to self. But all too quickly, Karima’s main asset, her voice, becomes her downfall. To show off its power she mangles words. Lines that are trite already become insufferably laboured. As she likens a friend to a modest angel she exclaims “you trayd to hayd those wings BE HIND you maaaaaaaaawwwwww and maaaaaaawwwwww”.
Sounding for all the world like the bastard lovechild of Four Non Blondes and Snow Patrol, Morse Code (or Mosss Coooooaaaaaaat) and Remember Your Name are so packed of sentiment that it’s hard to believe that Francis is only 21. The latter employs some annoying clicking sample to jazz up the monotony of the two picked cords; the effect is only slightly more annoying than a mosquito that you can’t quite see. Francis is a singer-songwriter who forgot the second part of her job description and focuses on the first like an X Factor auditionee.
The Author ticks a whole bunch o’ boxes: glossy and well-produced, a carefully considered understated image, and a voice that could drown out a hurricane. The fact that the lyrics are at best blindingly obvious cliché and at worst meaningless contrived profundity, might not work against Karima Francis – how many albums did Dido shift? However, any success will be predicated on the market of 30-50 something non-music fans that could be hers not yet having bought their one album for 2009. As it’s only March, she may just get lucky.