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Nerina Pallot: Rousseau / Little Bull

EPs seven and eight for Nerina Pallott are a mix of literary ballads and commercial pop; Rousseau leans on philosophy and poetry, whilst Little Bull turns adult.
Nerina Pallot
Rousseau
Idaho
2014-07-28

These are the seventh and eighth EPs of 2014 from Nerina Pallot, and by this stage of the game there’s a possibility that Pallot, the listener and/or the reviewer could be getting fatigued or delirious with the amount of respective work/listening/writing that is required. Like I don’t want to bring you down man, or start off with the wrong attitude, but the possibility exists.

According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau we are born twice, “once to exist and again to live; once as to species and again as regards to sex”. Ambitiously, Pallot takes this idea on in the title track to EP seven, convinced that the French philosopher is following her around the city streets like a weird stalker. The music is beautifully ambient, as Pallot wonders whether we are born free or have to be born again. The song grapples with the ritual passage of adolescence, of gaining self-consciousness, and developing from nature to a sense of adult city claustrophobia. Evoking the spirit of Rousseau is clever, and it’s perhaps an academic point that the reference to becoming a “noble savage” is erroneous; supposedly, Rousseau never used those words.

“Blessed” also has a literary influence, starting with a quote from T.S. Eliot, “April is the cruellest month.” Spring, apparently, is a downer because it can lead to hope, and the awful possibility that something good could be just around the corner. On the face of it, this song is truly miserable, with an emphasis on ships not coming in. However it transforms itself at the chorus, as Pallot tell us that those who lose it all, or give and get nothing back, are in fact blessed.

Pallot is certainly in philosophical form, and she goes on to provide wise counsel like a favourite big sister in the ballad “Time Won’t Wait”: “Mo one who ever knew love/ Wanted to play it too cool/ If it’s real, then it’s real/ Then why not, you’ve got nothing to lose.” After this focus on ideas, “The Longest Memory” and “Lost” change tack, with music more at the forefront. Pallot’s previous EP When I Grow Up went off on a stylistic excursion to club-land, and these last two tracks have hints of some wild years. “The Longest Memory” is like a tripped-out come-down trip to Ibiza’s Café del Mar and “Lost” a slow, idyllic retreat into sleepy introspection.

EP eight, Little Bull, is a mixed affair. “I Saw the Light” is an atmospheric, cinematic piece with elegant orchestration. The title track has a dramatic chorus and some spectacular piano chords, with a vocal at times reminiscent of Kate Bush. “Million to One” is a radio-friendly vote for optimism, possibly Pallot at her most commercial, adopting an adult-orientated American voice. It’s catchy and upbeat.

“Where Is My Friend?” is altogether a more difficult proposition because of the subject—essentially the frustration of not being able to get hold of someone. It has a terrifically twangy bass, but the lyrics struggle. Admittedly it can be a worry not being able to contact someone or failing to receive a response when you’re expecting it, but it’s doubtful whether the idea merits a song. It turns into a semi-rant about getting dumped by a friend, but the concept is not fully explored; as a result the track feels half-finished, and it should have probably stayed in the vaults. “Happy Day” is better: a shuffling, American spiritual, with some great communal singing.

Releasing 12 EPs in one year undoubtedly entails a certain amount of risk-taking due to what must be incredible time pressure. So far, in my opinion, there’s only been one misfire (and this was not a whole EP, just a song), which in the bigger scheme of things is remarkable. It’s difficult to complain about the overall standard of writing and production, and with only four EPs to go, Pallot is surely on the home stretch.

RATING 7 / 10
PopMatters