Birdy: Birdy

On her debut album full of indie-rock covers, this 15-year old proves that she can really sing; but Birdy's appeal may depend on how much you enjoy desperate, aching piano ballads, because there are a lot of them here.



Label: Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2012-03-20
UK Release Date: 2011-11-07

Birdy, nee Jasmine van den Bogaerde, may be well-known to UK audiences due to her win on a Reality TV singing competition there in 2008. The fact that she was only 12 when she won Open Mic UK may have kept her in the public consciousness a bit more than the typical talent show winner. As an American, my first awareness of Birdy arrived with "Just a Game", her quiet, aching closer to The Hunger Games soundtrack album. In a bit of major label cross-marketing, Birdy's self-titled debut album for Warner Bros. hit North America on the same day as that soundtrack album. But Birdy was released in the UK back in November of 2011, and hearing it six months later in the face of "Just a Game" doesn't necessarily do Bogaerde any favors.

As befits most of the rest of The Hunger Games soundtrack, "Just a Game" is a stripped-down song written by Bogaerde, and producer T Bone Burnett knew well enough to let her do her voice-and-piano thing with minimal interference. Birdy, by contrast, feels like it was guided every step of the way by its three producers, despite mostly following the same formula of just letting Bogaerde sing and accompany herself on piano. The difference is that 10 of Birdy's 11 tracks are cover songs, and not all of them benefit from the stripped (and slowed)-down approach.

It's clear from the opening notes of "1901" that Birdy can really sing. Her voice is rich and soulful, and it's amazing that she's only 15. "1901" also sets much of the template for the rest of the album. Birdy or her producers chose an indie-rock or folk song, slowed it down, and hoped that her voice carries the track. "1901" actually features a full (albeit quiet) band accompaniment, and the novelty of hearing a buoyant Phoenix track morphed into something soft and passionate is a good one. The next song, Bon Iver's "Skinny Love", seems like a natural pick for Bogaerde to cover, and her performance is strong. You can almost see the record company suits standing behind the producer, rubbing their hands together in anticipation of unleashing "the next Adele" on the world. But the songs on Bon Iver's first album came from a really personal place, and no matter how well Birdy sings, it's hard to fully buy into a 15-year old having that same well of emotion. The question of authenticity is a valid one for Bogaerde, but it feels like she deserves at least more of a break on this than the typical TV talent show winner. It's much harder to be cynical about a 15-year old with an amazing voice than a woman in her mid-20's who'll do anything for a shot at fame. Her one composition on the album, "Without a Word", isn't great, but it's solid. Along with "Just a Game", there's potential for better things down the line for Birdy as a singer-songwriter.

What's more of a problem for this album is the lack of variety between the songs. There are only so many covers of indie-rock piano ballads or rearrangements of indie-rock songs turned into piano ballads that a listener can take. Cherry Ghost's "People Help the People" holds up reasonably well, but even the addition of drums doesn't really make Fleet Foxes "White Winter Hymnal" come to life in Birdy's hands. The pattern really starts to take hold in the middle of the album, when Bogaerde tackles the Postal Service's "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" and "I'll Never Forget You" by Frances and the Lights back to back. If the existing song was already a piano ballad, it's going to sound pretty good. If the original arrangement was more robust, there's trouble ahead. Dozens of artists have covered Postal Service songs since Give Up came out a decade ago, and while Birdy's attempt isn't bad on the level of, say Confide's "Such Great Heights", it's not particularly good, either. Substituting rudimentary drum machine beats for Jimmy Tamborello's complex programming is a bad idea, and slowing the tempo down and emphasizing the piano leeches most of the energy out of the song. "I'll Never Forget You", on the other hand, is beautiful and sounds heartfelt.

The one exception to this pattern is the National's "Terrible Love," which serves as the album closer. This is the one case on Birdy where the producers give Bogaerde a true, full arrangement, and it benefits her greatly. The song starts out like most of the rest of the tracks here, but gradually adds in strings as well as drums, guitars, and bass. It doesn't build to the big rock out that the original does, but that's okay. Instead the strings swell along with Bogaerde's voice, and that's an actual arrangement choice beyond "Here, Jasmine, play this on the piano and sing." If nothing else, Birdy shows that Birdy can handle herself when it comes to desperate, aching piano ballads. She's got that covered. This is a strong album on that front, no question. But if she wants to make this music thing a career, she should probably think about convincing her handlers at Warner Bros. in North America and Atlantic in the UK to let her sing some other types of songs in the future. Maybe a few that are not desperate, aching piano ballads.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

Ahead of Offa Rex's Newport Folk Festival set, Olivia Chaney talked about the collaboration with the Decemberists.

I was lucky enough to catch two of Offa Rex's performances this past summer, having been instantaneously won over by the lead single and title track from the record, The Queen of Hearts. The melodious harmonium intro on the track is so entrancing, I didn't want to miss their brief tour. The band had only scheduled a few dates due in part to other commitments and perhaps limited by their already busy schedules, the Decemberists are actively touring and had their own festival in the summer while and their friend, "sublime English vocalist" Olivia Chaney, had arrived from across the pond.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.