[21 July 2014]
On album number two, Elly Jackson parted company with Ben Langmaid due to an often-heard chestnut: creative differences. From the start, this split seems to have done nothing but good for Jackson. Her debut was well regarded, if occasionally maligned for her “thin” voice. In the time since that album, her voice has improved, and with the split from Langmaid, she still dabbles in electropop, but there is much more of a beating heart beneath it all.
Opener “Uptight Downtown” arrives with a swagger and gloss that is rides a Maroon 5-styled groove, complete with echoed guitars that are straight out of the sub-U2 / Coldplay book. There may be a mechanical sheen to this pop, but again, Jackson and her new collaborators do a good job of keeping it from sounding too cold or robotic. Vocally, she tries to stretch a bit, but here and there her limitations show themselves. That said, it is refreshing that she isn’t going out of her way to hide those shortcomings with over-processing. This adds to the more lived-in, warm and open feeling that pervades this album.
“Cruel Sexuality” is the flip side of that coin, showing her vocal chops and just how much they have improved since her debut. While the song’s idea is a bit well worn, it suits her style, and suits her range, so it ends up being a good take on a well known subject. Better yet, a few tracks later she is in full blown jilted lover mode on what feels like the perfect follow-up to “Cruel Sexuality”. “Sexotheque” is a mid-tempo disco thumper that shows Jackson doing her best Lily Allen impersonation—not so much in voice, but in feeling. The song is all “The hell with him and his womanizing ways” rage, but the vocals are so softly delivered as to surprise the listener. Pulling off the acid-tongued rant crossed with sweetly sung words trick isn’t an easy one to do well, and Jackson pulls it off well enough as to make it seem effortless.
“Tropical Chancer” floats by on an electro-reggae groove that is a welcome change from the straight up electropop that fills out the first half. And given the sequence, it feels like the perfect Part Three to “Sexotheque.” Here, the song’s subject is done being annoyed with her ex, and is ready to get swept away by a pretty face again. Whether this progression was planned or not, it creates a nice tie-together between songs that make the album more appealing as a cohesive whole.
“Silent Partner” could have done with a little bit of restraint—trimming it down to a more manageable length would have made it sit more snugly alongside the rest of the tracks on this album. Not a bad song really, just one that seems to meander on a bit longer than it needs to. Speaking of sequence, the last two could easily be reversed to make things play out in a bit more even-handed way.
“Let Me Down Gently” is a ballad that showcases Jackson’s growth vocally and is pleasant and relaxing. This relaxed feeling is chucked out the window for “The Feeling” which unfortunately sees her trying on near-Mariah Carey-level vocal histrionics. These don’t suit her well, and the track is so hyperactive, it leaves the listener wishing for more. Sequencing quibbles aside, the fact that it is catchy enough to make most wish for more is a plus all by itself.
Elly Jackson has evolved and improved over her debut. While their may be nothing quite as earworm-worthy as “Bulletproof” on this album, she makes a strong case for an artist to keep listening to looking into the future.