While most of us were complaining about schoolwork and day dreaming about our latest crush, Jasmine van den Bogaerde—known by her stage name, Birdy—was releasing her first single, a beautiful cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love”. 11 months later, and only 15 years old, Birdy released her first album. This self-titled release was filled with covers ranging from Ed Sheeran to The National to The xx. The penultimate song, however, was written by Birdy herself, and it gave a taste of what she was capable of. If that was the starter, Birdy has just delivered the main course with follow-up Fire Within, a release consisting entirely of original material.
Just looking through the credits you can see how many people have been involved in this album. The opening song, “Wings”, was co-written with Ryan Tedder, the lead singer of OneRepublic and the pen behind numerous hits such as “Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis, “Halo” by Beyonce, and “Battlefield” by Jordin Sparks. Put it this way, he knows how to compose a song about love, with a big chorus, for a female singer. He writes hits though, and “Wings” would have charted a lot higher if the world were a fairer place. Tedder also co-wrote “Words As Weapons”. As the title suggests it’s a song that addresses the power of words to cause harm, or rather how little effect they can have if you face them head on. The chorus is poignant and sophisticated, especially coming from the mouth of a 17 year old. The last lines “If you use your words as a weapon / Then as a weapon, I’ll shed no tears” are particularly world-wise. The song is far less anthemic than “Wings”, but similarly includes the classic strings and piano combination that seem to feature so heavily in most songs both Tedder and Birdy are involved in. It’s a combination that seems to just merge with her voice, and the results, especially with “Words As Weapons”, create flawless songs.
“Wings” is followed up by one of only two songs that were written solely by Birdy, “Heart of Gold”. The song is evidence that Birdy has potential as a songwriter in her own right, but it’s probably for the best that she didn’t write a whole album without any other input. “Heart of Gold” is one of the biggest disappointments on the album, and it shows Birdy at her weakest. She sounds like a teenage girl getting far too emotionally invested in something because they think it means more than it does. To convey this emotion Birdy has really put her weight into the chorus and beyond, but these parts end up sounding overly raspy and shouty. It’s a contrast to the following song, “Light Me Up”, which has a much more polished sound. Of course lyrics don’t equate to this more accomplished sound, but it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that one of the weakest songs is one where Birdy is the only person credited.
Birdy’s real charm lies in her voice, which oozes emotion just as much as it brings up emotion within the listener. “All You Never Say” is one of the most heart-wrenching songs on an album that’s filled with potential tear jerkers. It’s not that surprising though, as it was co-written by Dan Wilson, who wrote the break-up anthem “Someone Like You” with Adele. “No Angel” similarly tugs on the emotional heart strings of the listener. It’s made even more poignant by the dominating piano, something that was highly prevalent on Birdy, but is less so on Fire Within. The first verse of “Standing In The Way of The Light” again shows how beautiful just a voice and a piano can be. Birdy certainly sounds 17, not because of any naivety, but because of the vulnerability that pervades her voice when there’s no other distraction except the tinkle of keys. When listening to Fire Within, it’s hard not to wonder if the album would sound a lot better stripped back. It’s a production heavy album, and, while it’s impressive that Birdy still shines through it all, the moments where it’s just her voice and one other instrument are the most compelling.
Birdy began her career doing covers, and she did a pretty damn good job at them. She was selling an album purely on her voice and some fantastic production. With Fire Within, it was time for Birdy to prove that she could handle the musical world on her own, and not by latching on to the creative talent of others. The fact that she co-wrote, or wrote, every single song on the album is testament to her writing skills, especially at the age of 17. Her voice is haunting, and she’s got her best years ahead of her. The album isn’t flawless, but it’s certainly better than many would expect from a girl her age. Fire Within is actually better than a lot of music that people far older and “wiser” are putting out. Birdy’s going to be a fantastic artist, and her potential has been well and truly spotted, she just needs a little more time to hone her talents.
// Notes from the Road
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