Does anyone remember those halcyon days when a new act could release his or her debut album to minimum fuss? Perhaps they’d release a single or two and eventually people would come onboard and that album would start to climb the charts and lo and behold, a new pop star was born? It’s a distant memory for most in these hectic times of packed release schedules, ‘taster’ singles, suffocating hype, blogs and lists proclaiming X to be better then Y.
Much vaunted Northampton born Vanessa Brown, aka VV Brown, is a strange mix of the old and the new way, in as much as she’s been around the musical block a few times and yet her debut album, Travelling Like The Light, has been delayed and delayed, ramping up the pressure before she’s even had the chance to begin a career.
A previous attempt at making an album in America was reportedly curtailed due to Brown changing her sound, whilst songwriting credits for the likes of Sugababes and Pussycat Dolls have honed her pop nous. Strangely, despite support from various music websites, magazines, broadsheets and a spot on Later… With Jools Holland, Brown has yet to really make an impact on radio, or more specifically on Radio 1, where current single, Shark In The Water, is nowhere near their playlist. Her first two singles failed to chart altogether.
Shark In The Water could easily be described as a ‘summer anthem’, all breezy acoustic strums, insanely catchy melodies and a chorus that explodes seemingly from nowhere. It also features that key ingredient to all great pop songs; a nonsense lyric. “Baby there’s a shark in the water, I caught them barking at the moon” is a wonderfully mixed image, the kind of animal creation a cartoonist would balk at for being too ridiculous.
It’s an instant, unabashed hit single in waiting, which may, ironically, have to wait that bit longer. It’s not alone either. Both Leave! and Crying Blood are excellent, doo-wop influenced ditties, the former carrying a genuinely heart-wrenching lyric about a relationship in freefall.
Unfortunately, they set the bar that bit too high for the rest of the album, which though never dull, never quite lives up to expectations. Opener Quick Fix is a nice rockabilly meets Motown stomp, whilst Game Over rattles along amid the blare of horns and some rattling percussion. Elsewhere L.O.V.E is the moment when the ’60s rock pastiche gets a little grating, whilst the mawkish I Love You is the only real dud; it’s saccharine lyrics inducing the urge to break something. The closing Travelling Like The Light is a much better example of what she can do when she slows things down.
The one constant, however, is Brown’s voice, a versatile instrument that she utilizes to brilliant effect throughout. Tracks like Leave! and Game Over let her savour the raspiness of it; on Shark In The Water she’s dramatic, whilst Back In Time and the Chopsticks-sampling Crazy Amazing display a softer side, the former sounding like a British Erykah Badu. It’s also what holds the interest throughout, allowing the personality of the singer to really shine through, even when the tunes aren’t quite there.
VV Brown is a prodigious talent who deserves to have a hit record, even if it’s just to reward all the hard work that has clearly gone into this debut. Travelling Like The Light is a good introduction to an artist who dares to challenge the norm in terms of what kind of music a young black female should be making, and it’s this desire to be different which should see her carve out a career in the future. For now, we’ve been given a taster. It will be interesting to see if she’s given the chance to follow it up with the main course.