The mention of Katie Melua tends to stir up those turgid jibes about the inaccuracy of her lyrics in Nine Million Bicycles, yet what is often suppressed is that she has released many an album to much success and acclaim, and is a talented musician and poignant songwriter.
A BRIT School alumnus, Melua caught the ear of songwriter and producer Mike Batt and was signed to Dramatico when she was 18. Her first album Call Off The Search was released in 2003 and has sold almost two million copies. She has since released four more albums with Batt, the eclectic The House with William Orbit and the festive set In Winter, recorded in her native Georgia with the Gori Women’s choir.
Album No 8 will be Melua’s second release since the partnership deal with Batt and Dramatico ended, and the album’s artwork would suggest that Melua is ready to turn the lens on herself. Ever keen to challenge herself (she holds the record for the deepest underwater gig), Melua immersed herself in books and music, reading Chronicles, Volume One by Bob Dylan and noting the names of the songs referenced in the book and listening often to Elis & Tom, the 1974 collaboration between Elis Regina and Antonio Carlos Jobim. She had resolved to write every lyric on her next album and enrolled in a course in short fiction at the Faber Academy.
As her marriage with James Toseland was coming to an end, Melua was also cognisant not to allow this to seep too far into the narrative, and with Album No 8 she has crafted a collection of personal and relatable vignettes that speak of love and loss, with the brilliant and eclectic Leo Abrahams on production duties. The album begins with A Love Like That, a gorgeous string-laden number, with echoes of Les Fleur by Minnie Ripperton, begging the question how to keep a burning and passionate love alive. This sets the tone for a compendious set of cinematic, soothing and poignant songs, showcasing a deeper maturity not only in Melua’s voice, but also in her songwriting.
The assuasive and sultry Airtime features divine strings from the Georgian Philharmonic Orchestra, and a retro rocky production explores how too much lip service is paid to love, whether lightning bolt or soulmate, and the pressure that can build. English Manner tells of a curious love triangle and is a cinematic, string-laden delight with some wonderful sweeping harmonies and a celestial key change following the middle eight. Shades of folky country swirl on Joy, underpinned by piano and tender guitars and strings forming the perfect accompaniment to a glass of Malbec by an open fire, and there is a distinct Sade feel to the jazzy sweeping of Voices In The Night.
There are some beautiful nods to Melua’s heritage in the gorgeously choral Heading Home and Leaving The Mountain has a wondrous otherworldly quality and depicts a journey Melua took with her father to the Caucasus mountains by the Black Sea, the flutes and strings evoking Björk at her understated best. It’s wonderful to hear Maybe I Dreamt It in its studio version, Melua having premiered it during her December 2018 tour in support of In Winter. This tribute to choreographer Pina Bausch, written with Melua’s brother Zurab, features some of her best vocals.
Your Longing Is Gone is perhaps the album’s standout, a heartbreaking, yet bittersweet ode to a love disappearing showcasing Melua’s soaring vocals and her trademark intrinsic melancholy. The album closes with the pensive Remind Me To Forget with Melua emerging from her shell and heralding a new dawn. So open some red and dive into this ethereal set of personal songs: with Album No 8, a beguiling autumn is here.