Nerina Pallot’s fifth and sixth EPs of 2014 are both challenging and ambitious with big ideas, from pop to disco to funk to electro.
The back cover of Nerina Pallot’s Grand Union EP states “5/12”, often the score I got for math tests at school, but here to denote that this is EP number five out of 12. It’s often said that math and music are closely related, but sometimes it’s difficult to understand this in the context of contemporary music. In the case of Nerina Pallot it’s easy to make this connection though. Her music is chromatic, not so much play by numbers as using music to paint with words. She has a classical pianist’s training and a degree in literature which may explain this, or maybe she is just naturally adept at what she does.
But it’s almost certainly not just talent that has helped Pallot with her career. “If I Had a Girl” demonstrates her sheer determination as she imagines being a temporary boy in a man’s world. It’s a driving and attractive feminist anthem for girl power, with a healthy dose of wit -- consider “you go to school and they tell us that we’re equal / but really it’s just half the people.” Pallot references page three of the Sun newspaper (which for non-UK readers, features semi-naked women) and tells us she has only just started. Girl power indeed; the recording contains the type of energy which would knock most men and women off their feet.
“I’m Gonna Be Your Man” continues in the same thematic vein, detailing Sister Rose and Sister Kate’s girl-on-girl exploits. It’s got a catchy ‘70s chorus and could be a hit if released as a single. “Boy on the Bus” is a cry-a-long song about a boy on the bus “with a startled face, delicate hands at a difficult age / clutching so hard on a plastic bag.” As the song continues, the drama increases, and the vocal excels in its range and expression of empathy.
“Heidi” is a long way away from the TV series of the same name, as Pallot considers what she’d do if she had a gun, and thanking god she is not like whoever Heidi is. Pallot’s voice is at the peak of sweetness despite the somewhat bitter sentiment. “Men Are Not From Mars” puts Pallot’s feminism in context by debunking the idea that men and women are a different species. I tend to agree. For those struggling with the opposite sex, it contains the sensible advice to not completely give up.
When I Grow Up, is without doubt the biggest stylistic departure from Pallot’s usual output. All the tracks, from start to finish, are disco/club/dance material, and as an EP in the series it may cause the most consternation among Pallot fans. “One Foot Forward” starts off like an ABBA track and continues like one, uptempo with ‘70s synths. “Simple Life” heads toward funky Chic territory with some zippy guitar by Carlos Garcia; a clubby masterpiece. “Love Electric” is catchy Euro pop, “Let Your Love Come Down” pure pop and “Cool Black Leather” space-age electro pop. Pallot manages all of this without any mawkishness, in an entirely classy way.
In its entirety this is “going-out” music, and its sequencing could suggest the musical arc of pop music during Pallot’s formative years, starting out with the early ‘70s deep grove of disco, to mid-'70s funk, to late ‘70s pop, to early ‘80s electro. If Pallot fans are put off by this latest development, at least she thoughtfully put this out as one EP so it could, in theory, be skipped. Equally, if dance music is your kind of thing, here it is as a standalone release. Some pop music was designed to simply be for dancing and pulling shapes out on the town, so if you listen to this at home you can practice your moves in the mirror. For some of us that’s probably where the moves should stay.