Album Reviews

Sophie Barker – Lullaby

(BMG) UK release date: 22 November 2004

There is an episode of Frasier where they talk about an old people’s home with the tag line “we care, so you don’t have to”. Well, the same might be said of Lullaby: why bother to introduce your child to the beauty of bedtime song yourself when you could get a record to do it for you?

A while ago Jason Falkner, formerly of Jellyfish, released an album of Beatles covers arranged for babies and it was quite fine. But this collection – 18 children’s classics performed for bedtime – is not in the same league. On paper, certainly, the idea makes sense: Sophie Barker is the voice – or one of the voices, at least – of Zero 7, and their ambient electronic stylings have always been pleasingly narcoleptic.

The occasions when the 7 became properly dull should, in fact, have been a virtue on an album designed to send people to sleep. In any case, the people who went to Cafe Rouge in 1998, and bought Simple Things in 2001, are having children in 2004, so why not cash in with a multi-market, pan-generational retail crossover. Sophie is doing a gig at the Bush Hall, where a new loyal fan base will no doubt be fostered in their infant cradles.

Unfortunately, it’s just this convenience that spoils the whole thing. The record is a perfect idea; of course it should be sold across the counter at Baby Gap. But it reeks of cashing in, and few respectable middle class parents want to raise their offspring on such an explicitly cynical ruse: even if they pass off the chore of singing to noisy children, they want a bit of enthusiasm from their surrogates. And Barker’s vocals are mumbled, and low in the mix.

It is hard, admittedly, to intone the words to Oranges and Lemons with quite the same sultry grace she bought to Destiny, so perhaps incoherent burbling is the way ahead. All told, though, Barker is strangely awful here: glottal, and often badly off-key. There’s a fine line between cooly aloof and bored and boring, but still she comes down heavily on the boring side.

Which leaves us with the arrangements – but the backing is far from original. The electronics are exactly what you’d expect, and that’s not a good thing in a genre which was dangerously homogenous to begin with. This record was produced by KK, who has worked with Brian Eno, Bjork and – wait, hold on – Dido. Not a surprise, but nothing here is. Not so much soporific as somnambulant.

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Sophie Barker – Lullaby