Trixie Whitley’s bio is the stuff of fairytale. She was never destined to be stacking tins of Spam in aisle three. Her mysterious father was Chris Whitley, a talented troubadour tipped by rock royalty - Springsteen, Petty, Keef , Iggy – but who died tragically young. Trixie herself lived a nomadic, boho-chic upbringing with her Gypsy Belgian mother but was swiftly handpicked for Pop Immortality by Überproducer and BFF of Bono n’ Bob, Daniel Lanois. Et voilà! A Jeff Buckley-shaped cut out n’ keep legend-in-the-making. But this is all gravy in the shadow of THAT voice. The Trixter is blessed with such Joplin-sized pipes she could literally blow away your hair, eyebrows and pants with a careless whisper. But before we hold hands and say Grace, lest we forget not all fairytales carry happy endings and alas Fourth Corner proves somewhat Grimm.
Whitley herself is a star, no question. The Trix-vox is a powerhouse colossus and clearly the get-outta-jail free, saving grace of Fourth Corner but the majority of her début is scuppered by dour, flat music, clichéd chocolate box, diary sentiment and a real scarcity of spark and joy. There’s a blanket o’ blandness coverin’ n’ smotherin’ every corner. You suspect the ever dubious quest for “Authenticity, maan” has led its creators chasing their tails. Less Etta or Mavis, more the sort of commercialised, homogeneous “Press your buzzers now”, plastic soul that gets the zombified masses hysterically whooping ‘n’ a-hollerin’ through American Idol.
The snoozy disappointment is there from the first note. “Irene” kicks off with sultry, schmokin’ voodoo drums and Scooby Doo synths but soon slips into every sepia n’ sweat, formulaic, “On my knees, begging you please” blues revue dial-a-cliché. Anastacia rather than Aretha. Eek! “Never Enough” is similarly overproduced to within an inch of its life. Every ounce of blood, spontaneity and individuality squeezed dry in favour of the kind of beige blandness fit solely for dead-eyed, ‘groundhog day forever’ dinner parties. Literally nothing happens. Well, except that several squillion notes are sung where one will suffice nicely, thank you. Later there is a song called “Need Your Love” where Whitters warbles - Mon Dieu! - “I need your love” ad infinitum. Credit where it’s due, Trix always sings as if her entire family were held hostage by Mexican Bandits and the only way she can free them is with her Super Lungs… but it’s still achingly drab. She puts in the hours but cannot resuscitate the deathly dull clockwork mechanics of the factory line “Will-this-do?” soundtrack behind her. There are such paint drying lows you even dangerously, nay insanely, ponder “What would David Guetta do with this?” Put a donk on it, probably.
Crushingly there’s rumness aplenty. The gloomy “Silent Rebel Pt2” (Chuckle) is as ‘serious-face’ daft as its title. “Don’t let them steal your wind” hippiness like “Do they really wanna breathe in fear? / Is old fashioned neurosis all they wanna hear?” and the tee-hee spoken word / ‘Rap dawg’ middle-eight momentarily suggest this may be some elaborate prank. “Breathe You In My Dreams” starts off promisingly – waltz-time and inspired “Silver shadows walking by my side” imagery – but swiftly descends into the Christina Aguilera “I’m gonna sing one billion notes really loudly ‘til I get a standing ovation or dammit we’re stayin’ here all night” routine. As if you don’t realise “This is the Gospel one” a Gospel choir are wheeled on stage exclaiming “I! BREATHE! YOU!” for seemingly no reason other than “We were in the neighbourhood and weren’t busy”. Later the gentle “Morelia” (“Don’t let the river go dry”, etc.) triggers another powernap before the lullaby lilting title track instigates more schoolboy sniggering “Conflicted by the w-e-st / challenged by the east…condemned in the eye of a sleeping mind / Waving out the window of time”. Riiiight.
But what makes Corner so frustrating is what could have been. Whitley’s voice deserves better material. Something with kick, electricity, life. There are scintillating moments which make you bolt up and dust off your golden slumbers. The closing-time moonlit melancholy of “Pieces” for one. Its ‘on the road again’ heroine packin’ up her troubles and skippin’ town Hulk-style, just one broken heart and a suitcase full o’ ripped purple trousers. “I’m leaving pieces behind, everywhere I go”. A true treasure of raw emotion that squeezes your heart, hard. The slow, glowin’ embers of Whitley’s voice serenaded by simmering strings and a new dawn rising. Gorgeous. Elsewhere the balmy, summer blues of wistful wonder “Gradual Return” hugs ‘n’ rolls like Hendrix wrestling Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis”. The stormy “Hotel No Name” similarly threatens to kiss the sky with its stripped Neil Young ragged glory and serpentine Patti Smith-inspired piss n’ vinegar preachin’. “As I sit here with my…with my glass o’ wiiine” Trixie broods. It’s Whitley unchained, gleefully rollin’ in the mud ‘n’ blood. The moment with the truest touch though is saved for the finale. “Oh Joy” is a four-minute campaign trail for shutting Trixter in a room with one chair, one mic, one six-string and hitting ‘Record’. Raw, breath on your neck intimate, true force, no tricks, no bullshit. “I was born to listen to the oldest voices” she confesses and it’s this moment we’ve longed for. Finally, fleetingly, she gets her Live at Sin-é moment. The sound of your heart being 100% nailed to the floor. WHOOP! There it is.
Ultimately Fourth Corner fails to convince. The songs are riddled with so much cliché, musically and lyrically, you’ll be screaming for something, anything unexpected to happen. Maybe it’s because we still shiver in the tall shadows of the ‘New Boring’ - the all conquering touchy feely, confessionals of Adele, Sande and Sheeran - but damn these mountains really need shaking. Having the voice of a colossus ain’t worth a damn unless you’re singing something worth hearing. For now Fourth Corner reaffirms that between the twin towers of fire ‘n’ ice there’s still an awful lot of luke warm water.
// Notes from the Road
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