A yearly cycle in the music industry comes with a plethora of unwritten rules for both artist and record label. Thou shalt release an album either in spring or autumn. There should be at least one single. Thou shalt have no more than two years between albums. That sort of thing. It therefore comes as something of a refreshment to be talking about an artist who hasn’t been through the production wringer for seven years – and who, when she returns, is unlikely to follow such rigorous timetables.
But then Tanita Tikaram is not most artists, operating in a rather more relaxed time sphere than many of her contemporaries. Can’t Go Back reflects that approach in musical terms, being an album that speaks with a rarefied contentment as it plots its course. Tikaram may still be best known as the singer of 1988 stalwarts Good Tradition and Twist In My Sobriety, but here we witness an artist fully in the grip of her own musical direction.
Prior to recording the album Tikaram fell under the spell of Americana, in particular the likes of Shelby Lynne, who crops up as a passing influence here. The voice sounds as husky and satiny as ever, hardly different from the late ’80s, and it slots in to the groove effortlessly when required, up close and intimate in the small room acoustic that producer Paul Bryan helpfully cultivates.
The standard of songwriting here is as high as it has ever been from Tikaram. Make The Day, one of the very best utterances here, finds her still irresistible in the lower range. “If we can make the sun shine on everything we do, I hope it’ll make you see what you mean to me”, she sings, a woman apparently happy with her lot. The single Dust On My Shoes, meanwhile, is a more direct song of freedom, typifying the singer’s open approach.
Rock & Roll is perhaps the most distinctive of the 10 songs, crackling with atmosphere, while Keep It Real is not as hackneyed as its title implies, becoming something of a call to arms with its catchphrase “It’s the love that we make every waking day”.
When listening on headphones the value of Bryan’s production comes to the surface, elevating the album from a fine collection of songs to a body of intimate and emotive work, Tikaram addressing each listener almost individually. It’s in these up close and personal moments that the little touches of extra orchestration prove their worth, with softly oscillating figures in Can’t Go Back and Science beautifully worked in the middle ground, and subtle strings nicely crafted in to the coda of final song If The World Should Want For Love.
One Kiss, a duet with Grant-Lee Phillips, ups the temperature in the studio with a distinctly sultry back and forward between the two vocalists. “Kiss me,” purrs Tanita, “and tell me what you know”. Such is the strength of her entreaty that the instruments almost fade in to the background.
We may not have heard from Tanita Tikaram since 2005, but Can’t Go Back means the wait was well worth it. She remains a vocalist out on her own, clearly content – but still ready to find new levels of intensity and emotion in her work. It’s great to have her back.