What is an éclair or profiterole without choux pastry? Lots of filler. The self-titled debut by Corinne Bailey Rae has just enough choux pastry — including a song entitled “Choux Pastry Heart” — to make it a notable release for June 2006. As with any éclair though, sometimes the choux pastry falls apart in your hands.
With eight producers and 11 co-writers dispersed over 11 tracks, Corinne Bailey Rae has plenty of talent shaping her songs, most of which are meditations on the excitement of new love. Only three tracks (“Seasons Change”, “Choux Pastry Heart”, and “‘Til It Happen to You”) suggest the sting of love gone wrong. A 27-year-old Pisces from Leeds, England, Corinne Bailey Rae sings more convincingly of the former than the latter.
The singer’s whispery voice and her acoustic guitar set the album in motion on “Like a Star”, a song which blooms through a pollination of strings, bass, drums, and organ (in that order). Self-penned by Bailey Rae, the tune also served as the title track to a three-song EP that found a home on iTunes in March 2006.
“Enchantment” — also from the EP — ushers the listener into the realm of the nocturnal. It’s dreamy and sultry. It also features the best vocal performance on the entire album. Bailey Rae doesn’t take the words for granted. There’s no mistaking what the love-stuck vocalist means when she sighs “He draws me in / I’m powerless.” Her elocution drips with sensuality.
Even the most jaded radio listener cannot resist the young songwriter’s invitation to “Put Your Records On”. Audiences in the UK have enjoyed the funky strum of Bailey Rae’s guitar on this infectious slice of soul since mid-winter 2006. With the summer heat already sweeping the U.S., Corinne Bailey Rae’s fans will no doubt open the sunroof, roll down the windows, and blare this track from car stereos (I know I will, at least once).
The spurious sound of whooshing vinyl frames the otherwise sublime “‘Til It Happens to You” in a simulacra of time and space, namely the 1970s. The intention to create an “authentic” music-listening experience of that era is transparent and adds very little to a song that stands well on its own without the gimmick. (Unfortunately, this tired technique appears two tracks earlier on “Enchantment”.)
Tellingly, the six productions crafted by Steve Chisanthou best suit Corinne Bailey Rae’s musical and lyrical musings. Most of these radio-friendly tracks are frontloaded onto the first half of the disc, such as the lustrous ode to flirtation, “Trouble Sleeping”. At the conclusion of “Call Me When You Get This” (one of two non-Chisanthou productions that give Bailey Rae’s confections their “choux pastry”) the album shifts into a somnambulant state. After such a promising start, Bailey Rae and her stable of producers simply lose momentum. “Choux Pastry Heart” and “Seasons Change” are devoid of melody and espouse such hackneyed wisdom as “patience is a virtue”, “all these things happen for a reason”, and “sometimes you win, sometimes you lose”. On “Seasons Change”, which closes the album, one would expect a poignant summation of the album’s theme. Instead, the lyrics are drunk on vacuities: Bailey Rae never specifies what “it”, “this”, and “things” are supposed to reference.
I really want to like Corinne Bailey Rae from start to finish, since I was one of the many who sought the import single of “Put Your Records On” months before the album’s stateside release. However, I find myself turning the pages in the accompanying booklet to skip reading the lyrics to a few weak songs that keep this from being a thoroughly-satisfying album. That said, some very strong cuts on Corinne Bailey Rae’s debut induce repeat listens. Just approach with caution if you expect to be sated by her “choux pastry” soul.
Corinne Bailey Rae – Like a Star