Rumer’s debut album Seasons Of My Soul was one of the unlikelier success stories of 2010. After a decade of obscurity spent singing with long-forgotten indie act La Honda and releasing albums in South Korea as plain old Sarah Joyce (her real name), collaboration with British composer Steve Brown finally bore fruit. Her debut single, Slow, was featured on commercial radio, with follow up Aretha becoming BBC Radio 2’s Record Of The Week, and suddenly Rumer was big news.
Seasons Of My Soul’s lush orchestration, meticulously crafted songs and Joyce’s flawlessly pure, melancholy voice were a throwback to an earlier, unfashionable age of easy listening, with The Carpenters and Burt Bacharach unmistakeable influences, yet it proved unexpectedly popular, peaking at number three in the charts and selling over half a million copies.
Instead of taking the easy route and following up with more of the same, 2012’s Boys Don’t Cry seemed to be a deliberately leftfield move. A selection of covers of songs by male artists from the 1970s, it may have fitted Rumer’s established sonic template but lacked the individuality that made Season of my Soul such a quietly powerful statement. Purposefully low key after Rumer struggled with post-traumatic stress after her sudden success; it has taken another two years for the true follow up to her debut to finally emerge with Into Colour.
The elegant piano and bittersweet croon of opening track (Intro) Return Of Blackbird are quintessential Rumer, but it’s when this segues slickly into second track Dangerous when things start to get rather interesting. A love song seemingly inspired by the fear of returning to the music industry, Dangerous tackles her recent challenges head on with lyrics like “It’s taken me a long time to feel better babe / I’ve only just begun to feel my heart again”. Her musical style has shifted a little too – now Seventies disco as much as singer-songwriter, with some subtly funky guitars, whooshing strings and an uplifting chorus.
This new direction doesn’t last for long. Reach Out would sit very comfortably on Seasons Of My Soul with its tasteful brass parping and torch song dynamic, and by and large this sets the tone for the rest of the record. You Just Don’t Know People and Play Your Guitar swing ever so slightly in an understated Sade kind of way, but otherwise this is Rumer on tried and tested ground.
Having said that, she’s so good at her particular brand of silky smooth pain it is hard not to just lie back and enjoy Into Colour. Each note is deliciously crisp and assured, the arrangements are impeccable and Rumer’s voice is the aural equivalent of a long hot bath. The beautifully fragile Butterfly (about her miscarriage) is the album’s most Karen Carpenter moment, while Pizza and Pinball is a delicious slice of hazy childhood nostalgia, referencing the Fonz and slurping slurpees to a backing of goofy guitars.
There aren’t any standout tracks quite as memorably melodic as Am I Forgiven or Slow, the highlights of Season Of My Soul, but overall this is a highly accomplished return from an artist of genuine class – albeit one who is about as cutting edge as a Downton Abbey box set. A guilty pleasure for some perhaps, yet one well worth indulging.