Corinne Bailey Rae has had herself one intense decade. She broke into success in 2006 with her UK Number One debut album Corinne Bailey Rae, then lost her love and longtime collaborator Jason Rae in 2008 and took a hiatus from music. She came back in 2010 with her bittersweet return The Sea, then shortly after took hiatus for the second time in her career; a career that each time around had only just begun to realise itself. Here she returns with her third effort, and at this point it’s hard to know what to expect. On the one hand, it’s been ten years since she stepped into the spotlight and put her name on the map, and if the difference between her debut and The Sea was any indication, she was more than happy to push herself into strange and murky, sometimes even risky territory. But it’s also only her third album, and with the expectation already set so high for this release after leaving her fans waiting this long, maybe it would be wiser at this point in her career to just play it safe? On The Heart Speaks In Whispers, it feels like Corinne Bailey Rae tries to do a bit of both at once, and I think the album suffers a little bit as a result.
Don’t get me wrong, this album is very, very cleverly written, and each song is focussed, accomplished, and very beautifully crafted. The issue for me is that there are a lot of very distinct styles presented here that can vary pretty wildly and often times clash, and while I admire the ambition, I don’t think enough thought has been put into how these songs actually work as an album. At times the varying styles work perfectly, letting the vibe flow and change organically and giving the whole thing a sense of emotional momentum – like the way the sleek and sweet-as-sugar R’n’B offering ‘Green Aphrodisiac’ rides these gorgeous chime swells through the air between songs – flowing oh-so-comfortably into the 80s tinged sunday afternoon soul-pop of ‘Horse Print Dress’. Or again with ‘Taken By Dreams’, a lush electro/R’n’B hybrid with this HUGE beat driven by bottomless sub hits that keep swelling to crescendo after crescendo, until finally exploding into this glorious display of dreamy synth flourishes and Corinne Bailey Rae’s angelic falsetto soaring above these rich, shimmering harmonies, finally disintegrating under the weight of it all. ‘Walk On’ backs it right up, calmly slinking in from the void left with this understated swagger that immediately grabs you, curbing the tension of the last track with this slinky lil’ Sly Stone strut of a bassline you can’t help but want to move to. And while presenting something completely different stylistically from the track before, it still compliments the vibe established beautifully.
In more instances than not, though, the massive changes in style feel incredibly uncomfortable. Consider the opener The Skies Will Break, a slow-burning electro-pop gem with four-to-the-floor bass and anthemic hooks for days. There’s a certain energy set here, a building tension, and you kinda expect the next tune to deliver a continuation energy-wise from there, or at least a complimenting energy. But it doesn’t. Instead you get ‘Hey, I Won’t Break Your Heart’, a lovesick and forlorn acoustic country-pop song with full band accompaniment – almost the aural opposite of the track before. Following this, my personal highlight ‘Been To The Moon’, a ’70s soul-funk odyssey with this big fat fuzzed out synth bass and a singalong chorus that just won’t quit. But again, as much as I loved it, it doesn’t compliment either of the previous two songs at ALL; it sounds like three completely different acts.
That’s the only real hiccup with this record though, that enough consideration wasn’t given to how well these songs work as a whole, or how best to present them together. Which is disappointing because each individual song is a well crafted, highly polished package, but when presented in this fashion it just makes the whole thing feel disjointed and lacking in focus. It also takes away from the overall enjoyment of each song to have them placed in such an affronting way, rather than giving them the room to breathe and the chance to be appreciated on their individual merits, which they definitely aren’t short of.
The Heart Speaks In Whispers is available now via Virgin EMI Records.