Sarah Cracknell - Red Kite - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Sarah Cracknell - Red Kite

by Jeff Penczak Rating:8 Release Date:2015-06-16

Ah, the proverbial comeback album from the proverbial voice of a generation. If memory serves (not always reliable as it was nearly 20 years ago), I wasn’t bowled over by Cracknell’s eagerly anticipated solo excursion away from the comfort afforded her by Saint Etienne partners Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, musicologists who didn’t always wear their numerous and sometimes obtuse influences on their sleeves.

Their writings on music were oft times better than their writing of music, often resulting in unnecessarily verbose, kitchen sink arrangements and cumbersome production. Thankfully, Cracknell’s voice shone above and beyond the call of duty, one of the finest (alongside Sandy Denny, Harriet Wheeler, Rachel Goswell, and Liz Fraser) this fair Isle has ever produced.

But Lipslide (Gut, 1997) felt flat and anticlimactic, as if she had left her finest work behind her. And the songs were rather dull and completely buried under the vagaries of nearly a dozen different producers, chucking all hope of anything resembling coherence.

Perhaps there was more magic in Wiggs’ and Stanley’s pens than I allowed. So hopes were high heading into round two that the (nearly two decades in the making) sophomore slump wouldn’t claim another victim.

Well, for starters, she’s kicked all but three producers out from behind the desk, so we’re already enjoying a more focused collection. To top things off, opener ‘On the Swings’ suggests dear Sarah’s been borrowing her former mates’ Ennio Morricone soundtracks, for the inimitable spirit of the elegant Dame Edda Dell’Orso is front and center.

‘Nothing Left to Talk About’ is more poppy and closer to the recent comeback efforts of Tracy and The Primitives (another classic voice for the ages), but I fear the propping up of Manic Street Preacher Nicky Wire alongside her at the mic had a more economic than artistic basis (there’s a reason Jimmy Dean preaches all their songs).

The deeper into the record we get, the fewer chances Sarah seems willing to take (or Cherry Red seems willing to allow). ‘Ragdoll’ is soft and “coo-ey”, but it feels like something Olivia Newton-John was perfecting 40 years ago. It was fine then (OK, full disclosure to my ONJ schoolboy crush), but unless you’re doing it for thematic reasons (again, I look to The Primitives and their brilliant concept-cum-tribute album, Echoes and Rhymes), it feels out of place.

That’s not to take anything away from the effervescent ‘Hearts Are for Breaking’, the stunning confab with The Rails, ‘Take the Silver’ (face it, if Richard and Linda Thompson are your parents, you can’t possibly do anything wrong), or the possible hit of the Summer of ’15, ‘It’s Never Too Late’.

So, Sarah’s voice is as plucky, emotional, and angelic as ever, especially when she lets it breathe all over us (‘I Close My Eyes’ and the tender, acoustic folky aboutface, ‘The Mutineer’), and I don’t think I heard one of those synthy contraptions anywhere (they’re so, like, 90s, man). Unfortunately, ‘I Am Not Your Enemy’ sounds like she’s trying to channel Siouxsie (a misguided attempt at a slinky, gothic dance routine), but the closing lullaby ‘Favourite Chair’ rivals Ringo’s ‘Good Night’ for all-time coziness, and makes me want to cuddle up with a warm glass of Ovaltine and drift off to Never Never Land.

Overall, an exciting return to form that justifies my fan-boy gushing when she first landed on Foxbase Alpha.

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