In 2009, VV Brown was considered one of pop’s brightest hopes. Three years later however, and the singer is something of a minor footnote as her debut album failed to truly connect. There’s the sense that this was not entirely the fault of Vanessa Brown. Travelling Like The Light was a fairly functional and generic sprightly major label debut album but it resembled more of a stylised product than a committed artistic project.
The effect of her brief period in the limelight as well as an aborted second album left Brown disillusioned with the music industry, and she has spent the last three years working in the fashion industry while forging her own distinct career. All of this has culminated in Samson & Delilah, her long delayed second album. If her debut did not fully represent her as an artist, the second VV Brown album is a line in the sand. It’s a dark, difficult and conceptual album that will confound expectations for those who remember the VV Brown of old.
It’s abundantly clear from listening to Samson & Delilah that Brown has cast aside any outside influences or desire for mainstream acceptance. This single-minded approach runs throughout an album that pays no heed to prevailing trends or desire for 12 hook filled potential singles. It’s very much a record of VV Brown the artist. The input of esteemed co-producer Dave Okumu of The Invisible helps to broaden Brown’s musical palette.
From the opening striking operatic vocal of opener Substitute For Love, it’s clear that this is a far more ambitious album. The overwrought dramatics are indicative of a more sonically adventurous, if slightly cold and joyless, approach. Brown’s vocals sound harsh and almost robotic; everything is measured and poised. The overall effect is disorienting. It’s as if she and Okumu are attempting to obliterate any memory of her old sound. In that respect, the album works well.
Musically, the songs are filled with stuttering beats and the sort of production favoured by Grace Jones in her 1980s imperial phase. The sound is strong, vigorous and strident throughout. On the windswept grandeur of Samson, the feeling is incredibly powerful.
Throughout the album it is apparent than Brown seems to be revelling in playing something of a character. She takes on a dominant, attitude-filled persona, and there is absolutely no sense of vulnerability. On the throbbing, processed electro of Igneous she proclaims that “we rule the world” before continuing to channel Lady Gaga with a spoken word interlude in which she states, “I am a mountain, solid and powerful”.
Samson & Delilah features a kind of pop that you rarely hear anymore. It often brings to mind the aforementioned Grace Jones and the otherworldly oddness of Kate Bush. On the bewitching funk melting pot of The Apple, Brown resembles a modern day version of Jones as she delivers her lines with attitude filled, curled inflections. Her cry of “Don’t patronise me” is perhaps a mission statement for the album.
As striking as these diversions are though, the album is severely lacking in light and shade. The gloomy creeping, crepuscular sound as exemplified on closing track Beginning makes you long for a bit of release. Perhaps, in striving to leave behind her previous persona, Brown has lost a slight bit of soulful charm. Still, the desire to move forward is to be commended.
With Samson & Delilah VV Brown has shown that she isn’t quite languishing on pop’s scrapheap and has a wealth of energy and attitude left. She is tired of playing the pop game so is instead forging her own path. It doesn’t quite always work, but it is a promising reinvention.