VV Brown: Travelling Like the Light

British retro soul artist delivers catchy '50s kitsch spliced with grown-up retro soul -- but struggles to find her own voice.

VV Brown

Travelling Like the Light

US Release: 2010-04-20
Label: Capitol
UK Release: 2009-07-13
Artist website

While many readers of PopMatters will undoubtedly mourn the death of the album, you can't help but think that, in some ways, it was inevitable anyway. OK, so the album hasn’t actually died -- yet -- but the steep rise in the sales of digital downloads over the past few years has put the emphasis back on the singular track, meaning, really, it's only a matter of time.

Why didn't we see this coming much earlier? The idea of album "filler" has been around ever since the Beatles cut Please Please Me -- before that, even. And when filler hasn’t been ruining what could otherwise be a perfectly amazing, flawless album, it's been the tendency of many artists to "try different things", which, while in theory should be welcomed, in practice can make for inconsistent, incoherent, and sometimes unlistenable albums. So, in many ways the advent of the Internet should have been a welcome thing, as far as putting out music is concerned. These days, if you're a band, there's no need to worry whether your album follows a linear pattern from start to finish: most people will probably only download a few tracks anyway.

Which brings us on to VV Brown, a young British female solo artist who, depending on which tracks you listen to when you cherry-pick this album the next time you're on iTunes, is the new Kate Nash, a '50s-obsessed funk-soul diva, or an adult-oriented US pop starlet.

Having written, sung, and played instruments on Travelling Like the Light, VV Brown is doing her own thing -- except in some ways she isn’t. Prior to the album's release, the singles "Crying Blood" and "Shark in the Water" cranked the hype machine into action, and this album came with more than its fair share of expectation. Both tracks conflicted with each other. The former is a '50s-tinged romp that’s as fun and playful as anything S Club 7 put out in their career. The latter is an expensive-sounding, glossy pop song that Xenomania would have been proud to have written.

So, where does that leave the rest of the album? If anything, with a mild case of identity crisis. VV Brown employs enough personas to suggest she’s struggling with the decision of who to appeal to. It’s a shame that she hasn’t got a voice of her own, but that’s not to say the album isn’t without its highlights. Once you’ve gotten past possibly one of the worst album openers of all time in "Quick Fix" (The Go! Team covering the Bottom theme tune with little conviction), you’re left with an obstacle course of an album, but the high points are worth it. "Game Over" is a retro-soul treat that chugs along with infectious horns and determined stabs of "Oh-no-no-no"s. "Leave!" and the aforementioned "Crying Blood" are the Noisettes reborn as a '50s-reviving doo-wop wonder, counter-balanced by the pure adult-pop balladry of "I Love You" and "Travelling Like the Light".

And then there's "Shark in the Water". Even on an album that flits vacillatingly from Eartha Kitt to kiddy-kitsch in the blink of an eye, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Yet it's one of the finest pop songs you’ll hear this year, a true testimony to the fact that simplicity is the most effective way to deliver a killer chorus. Unfortunately, it conveys such an honest lyric it makes the rest of the album seem a little, well, false.

Yet the fact that this one single is such a flawless, utterly-believable slice of pop music brings us back to our original point. "Shark in the Water" may inadvertently overshadow the rest of VV Brown’s debut album, but it makes it whole lot easier for the rest of us. Worried about paying good money for an album that’s only half good? Skip the rest of Travelling Like the Light and just download this track. Three cheers for the Internet!







A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.