Cocknbullkid - Adulthood - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Cocknbullkid - Adulthood

by Rich Morris Rating:6 Release Date:2011-05-23

Just in the nick of time, here's CocknBullKid's debut album. It's timely for two reasons: firstly, for an artist who released her first single back in 2008, waiting any longer to deliver an LP would risk an inexorable slide into obscurity. Secondly, we are clearly living in the age of the confessional female singer-songwriter. From Adele to Lilly to the ever-looming shadow of that new Winehouse album, ladies singing about the joy and strife of their everyday lives is where it's at.

It seems likely this trend was discussed and fed explicitly into the writing and recording of Adulthood. Those following CocknBullKid, aka Anita Blay, will be aware of a shift in her sound from the tense electro of 2009's exemplary 'I'm Not Sorry' to the more conventional piano-led pop of her recent singles, which feature here. No two ways about it, there's been a definite push towards a more mainstream sound and most of Adulthood practically begs to be played on Radio 1.

All of which makes it quite wonderful that the album opens with it's most downbeat, non-commercial moment. 'Adulthood' is a loping, shuffling, shaking existential crisis in song form. It's a beautiful piece of work: the production is sparse, with no element squandered, and Blay's vocals are a classic example of 'less is more', letting her quiet desperation at life's myriad disappointments and indignities trickle through. Then there are the lyrics: "My father turned my mother into everything he hated/ and my mother turned my father into every guy I dated". Few lyricists, at any stage of their career, can say so much, so wittily, with so little.

If only Adulthood were full of moments like this, but, alas, it is not. Which isn't to say there aren't some fantastic songs on here, or that Adulthood doesn't succeed in being a decent, classy pop album. Second track and, surely, signature song 'CocknBullKid' is just as good as 'Adulthood' in its own way. A supremely assured storm of hammered piano, strings and brass, it lays bare Blay's self-doubt and self-loathing in way that makes you want to sing along and claim this exquisite neurosis as your own. No mean feat.

However, as the album progresses, it's hard to ignore the fact that something has been lost in the translation to primary colour pop. Recent single 'Hold on to Your Misery' nimbly manages the trick of smuggling subversive subject matter into drive-time friendly pop. Unfortunately, the medium lets the message down. This limp, prissy soul is worthy of a Boots advert at best. Similarly, 'Yellow', 'Bellyache' and 'Distractions' could have languished on a 90s Gabrielle album. A trifle unfair, perhaps. Marina & the Diamonds producer Liam Howe can't be blamed for doing his job, but music this anaemic and inoffensive is difficult to love or even remember.

The question is, does Blay really need music this bland to make it into the mainstream? One look at the success of Lady Gaga, Lilly Allen and Adele proves that, whatever you think of their music, there is no 'one size fits all' template for female singers right now. It's hard to believe that a more creative approach couldn't have turned Blay's 'quirks' into chart-conquering strengths. After all, listening to the aforementioned 'I'm Not Sorry' will tell you that this is a girl with serious, if unconventional, pop nous.

The album's nadir comes with 'Asthma Attack', which wastes a decent chorus on a sappy love song to London. There are few tropes more annoying and overused in the canon of modern pop than that of the love song addressed to London. Where are the love songs to Dewsbury, Maidstone or Milton Keynes? These are far more novel and interesting subjects for song.

Thankfully, some great moments are hidden in the mediocrity. 'One Eye Closed', released last year, is a perfect mix of B-52s guitar and sky-scraping strings. Perhaps it should get a re-release? 'Mexico' is a cheeky, sassy tune with another great lyric: "I sold my soul/ to see how much it would fetch/ Thought it'd be fine/ cos at the time/ I wasn't really using it". Closing tracks 'Dumb' and 'I Deserve It', meanwhile, end proceedings on a pleasingly brittle, introspective note.

Soundblab has kept tabs on CocknBullKid since we started and there is no doubt that she is an exceptionally gifted songwriter who has a vital place in 2st century pop. It's just a bit baffling, in an era of such diversity, that Blay seems to have capitulated in being strapped into something of a musical straitjacket. Here's hoping she breaks free for album number two.

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