[31 January 2008]
Gosh, this sure is nice.
I mean, look at the cover—all of those sunny gold tints, Ms. Bedingfield putting on her best sexy-but-innocent look, like Jennifer Love Hewitt except less potentially prone to talking to someone you can’t see. And then there’s that title: Pocketful of Sunshine. It’s so…nice. This music, it’s the type of music for which God made butterflies, scores of which surely follow Ms. Bedingfield wherever she goes, their dancing broken up only by the occasional Technicolor songbirds drawn helplessly to the luminescent glow that surely follows her every move. She’s like head cheerleader, except approachable; the perfect Everygirl. The extent to which Natasha Bedingfield and whatever handlers she chooses to surround herself with have stoked this image, an image sparked by songs like “These Words” and “Unwritten”, which point out her flaws in a paradoxically pitch-perfect way, is astounding and utterly masterful.
“A face without freckles is like a sky without the stars / Why waste a second not lovin’ who you are?” This, from Pocketful of Sunshine‘s “Freckles”, is the Natasha Bedingfield mission statement. It’s a plea for self-acceptance from someone who, by all appearances, has no need for any such empowering advice. Even more impressive, perhaps, is that despite the fact that Bedingfield outwardly displays pretty much none of the “little imperfections” she sings of, we accept her message anyway.
Think about it—if Paris Hilton sang this exact same song, would anyone buy it? God, no. Paris Hilton has gone so far past the point of singing about imperfections at this point that she’d get laughed out of the room if she tried to deliver the self-help pop. Paris’s generally robotic approach to her music wouldn’t help, and this is where Bedingfield excels. Somehow, she’s able to inject just enough sincerity into her voice to make you believe it. She always sounds like she’s singing with a knowing smile, and a look of encouragement that makes the listener feel all warm and fuzzy and good vibey inside.
Further, she somehow projects this vibe whether she’s singing about freckles, or happiness, or lost love, or lovers’ quarrels, or even the potential pointlessness of life. Yes, she gets downright depressed on Pocketful of Sunshine‘s penultimate cut, the awkward metaphor-riddled “Pirate Bones”, which features lines like “It’s just not worth the prize / It’s only a fool’s paradise / If it’s draining every drop of life / ‘Til I’m dry like pirate bones”. The thing is, you have to hear it to understand. Bedingfield may be having her doubts, wondering about her future, about the regrets that may haunt her for years to come, but she still sounds like someone who’s going to pull through. She may be down now, she might be depressed and downtrodden and near giving up, but is there any doubt that she’s going to pull through? Never. She even goes so far as to title the album’s final track “Not Givin’ Up”, in case there was any doubt.
The problem with this sort of approach is that it robs Pocketful of Sunshine of any of the emotional weight that its words might yield. Honest emotions become sentimentality, as Bedingfield is constantly singing about herself rather than as herself. It’s a distinction that adds a layer of separation between artist and listener, and until that layer is removed, Bedingfield is going to have a hard time inspiring anything in her listeners past feel-good triviality.
Perhaps that’s what she wants. Merely showing up as a guest vocalist on current hot single “Love Like This” makes the abysmal Sean Kingston sound cute and somewhat endearing. The hard edges of Danja’s synthwork on “Not Givin’ Up” are softened by Bedingfield’s presence, making the song little more than a feel-good dance track with nifty percussion. And then there’s the title track, which carries no pretenses of being about anything other than being happy and in love, and is so utterly effervescent that it could re-carbonate a seven-days-open can of soda. That’s what Bedingfield is about, really, and there are certainly worse things in this world than having the ability to create music that can make people feel good for a little while.