Faith – VV Brown
Samson & Delilah
49:10 min • YOY • September 9, 2013
John Preston reviews
VV Brown’s second album opens with 2 songs that share Madonna titles but aren’t cover versions. ‘Substitute for Love’ and ‘Nothing Really Matters’ were two of the singles taken from the ultimate Madonna make-over album and mid-career return to form, 1998’s Ray of Light. Unhappy with the R ‘n’ B follow up to Bedtime Stories (an R ‘n’ B influenced collection itself), Madonna scrapped the entire sessions and hired electro head Brit William Orbit, started calling herself Veronica Electronica and the rest is pop cultural history. Albeit on an entirely different scale, VV Brown has followed Madonna’s lead. About to release her follow up to the successful but underwhelming Travelling Like The Light debut, Brown decided the hip hop and R ‘n’ B dominant follow up, a departure indeed from the nostalgic pop doo-woop of her debut, was not authentic and she walked away for the project and the album was never released. 2 years on and as many career changes later she has returned with 11 angry, desolate and soulful songs set against a unsettling, uncompromising soundtrack and it is a startling reinvention indeed.
Samson & Delilah is released on VV Brown’s own YOY record label so it can presumed that this is what she wants to sound like now with little or no interference from outside parties, and that is remarkable. The aforementioned ‘Substitute For Love’ opens in much the same way as the Madonna track opens Ray of Light. Gently twinkling notes and ambient synths introduce Brown’s incredible voice, which is now several octaves lower – a contralto to rival Grace Jones – and she sounds magnificent throughout. An all electronic backing dominates that is somewhere between The Knife circa ‘Silent Shout’ and Massive Attack at their most austere (think ‘Sly’) with a mound of sticky dub step coating the astounding, warrior-like ‘Igneous’. It isn’t easy listening and the mood is pitch black. A couple of songs, such as the title track, can struggle to stand out when the melody is forsaken for a mood, but these are minor niggles.
‘The Apple’, by some distance the most instant and accessible track here, sounds amazing. Its rolling funking electro pop assertiveness is magical and Brown has huge fun with the relentless put downs that lyrically dominate –
Don’t testify me,
don’t bring me down,
don’t hold me captive,
you’re not the apple of my eye you see.
‘Nothing Really Matters’ is a swirling, somber and sharp edged synth monster which would have sounded at home on Adult’s last album, VV Brown never before hinting at this unlikely and inspired direction.
‘Faith’, track 8 of 11, finally allows a chink of light to spill through and is more lifting sonically and melodically than anything proceeding it. A duet with an uncredited male it quietly references George Michael, and with its theme of rebirth –
I shake it off as infall down to the ground,
I belly flop into a swimming pool of sound,
so you got to have faith
– and hope and a melody that will stick for days, it’s one of the strongest and most soulful songs here. ‘Ghosts’, in which Brown vocals spectacularly morph into ’80s singer songwriter Joan Armatrading, continues with similar themes and benefits with some simple but brilliantly constructed vocal effects over a droning organ and tight drum machines.
The album ends with two tracks that bring to mind a singer-songwriter who is now an almost clichéd reference point for artists and music fans alike. I am loathe to point out the similarities in the song writing to that of the haunting ‘Knife’ and Kate Bush’s ‘This Woman’s Work’ and the foggy, suffocating album closer ‘Beginning’ sounds like a lost track from Bush’s ‘Ninth Wave’ concept album, which formed the second part of her Hounds of Love album. These aren’t parodies though, as is often the case. They are very well crafted compositions from an artist who may or may not be familiar with Bush’s work (I suspect the former) and to draw such genuine comparisons are a compliment indeed.
Samson & Delilah never goes too far, gets too crazy or attention seeking. The measured and meticulous tone and pacing of this album is a very large part of its success. VV Brown will have her work cut out for her when it comes to the initial promotion of this admittedly difficult album (for such a visual artist she has made the odd decision to hardly feature in the videos for the first two singles) and many will not make the connection between the Marks and Spencer’s model and former pop star and Brown’s current, definitive form. 12 months down the line though and many people will have hopefully been exposed to this album maybe having no idea who the artist is and it will become so something of a word of mouth slow burner. By all accounts, this is a heartfelt and bold collection and a testament to VV Brown’s self belief.