Nerina Pallot: When the Morning Stars Sang Together / Free As You Wanna Be

[28 May 2014]

By Charles Pitter

Beats and oxymorons

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Nerina Pallot’s third EP this year, When The Morning Stars Sang Together, has some dark, hip programming, but somehow it is. This is probably because despite having guested for Delirium early in her career, her albums have tended to be straight-ahead accessible and melodic. But there’s always been a cheeky sense of humour evident in the background, particularly on Pallot’s 2009 album The Graduate. The modernistic approach here is playful and fun, with some quirky drumming in unexpected places. So in the scheme of things whilst this could be considered a slightly different approach, it doesn’t appear forced.

The first song “That’s Really Something” starts in more traditional territory – an uplifting sing-a-long track with a Steely Dan flavour and beautifully double-tracked Laurel Canyon vocals. Things start to get a little more experimental with “Ain’t Got Anything Left” – after the slow spooky humming at the beginning, the fantastic rhythmic drum work courtesy of Lewis Wright leaps out to startling effect. “No Harm Done” also has great drumming, and the vocals are pushed to an industrial level of distortion. “Nervous” contains post-apocalyptical backing and deep piano chords, so powerfully hypnotic you have to wonder whether Pallot is considering joining a cult of some sort. The singer describes the effect of someone making her nervous despite having “done nothing wrong”, evoking, I think, what can be the powerlessness of being a child in an adult world. “Sorriest MF In Town” comes with an explicit lyrics warning, but it’s not a bad-tempered rap song. Instead this is a light jazz shuffle, contemptuous of good weather because a beloved is elsewhere. It’s as fluffy as the white clouds in the dreaded blue sky.

EP4, Free As You Wanna Be is equally surprising, this time not because of the music but due to the originality of the ideas contained in the songs. The word that sticks out immediately is “oxymoron”, which Pallot casually slips in to the lyrics of “Free as You Wanna Be”, kind of a peace-and-love song about waking up to new ideas. The following “Free Man” is more striking due to the level of attack brought to it and the unusual nature of the narrative, describing a relationship in which neither individual falls for others or become another’s victim. The song is addressed from a very determined woman to a presumably equally determined man, and is full of swagger and dark echo. Its individuality is exciting and impressive, and Pallot has found a subject that has rarely been written about before.

“Love Is Blind” is a funky disco work-out with some great guitar work. Pallot has previously written for Kylie, and this track is one you could imagine the clubbing queen covering. “Never Had a Single Original Thought” is far from what the title suggests, i.e. it’s not a downbeat vengeful rant but instead a classy soul number. It comes across as a purposeful piece of stylised writing, and it’s fresh and appealing. The last track is probably the most dispensable, “Happy Birthday to Me” – practically an acoustic demo, but with its own charm, bare and intimate.

With the EPs released so far, four in four months, Pallot has proven that she is a prolific, and more importantly, consistent songwriter. In a different time she probably would have been beavering away in the Brill Building and her songs performed by the next craze to hit the charts. But this year we’re lucky enough to be able to witness Pallot herself working out the direction she wants to take, for her own career, and this series of EPS continues to remain highly recommended.

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