Katie Melua - The House

2010-05-25 15:41
The House

Uh-huh. She may have parted ways with mentor Mike Batt on The House, but it’s her former producer’s polished soap operatic chamber pop balladry that still curls Ms. Melua’s coiffure.

While Katie does her best to peek out from beneath her adult contemporary duvet by skipping into a 60s girl group pop groove midway through first single "The Flood", it's those sweeping Brit popped strings that soundtrack her emotions here. Clearly she's spent more than a few days listening to old Sandie Shaw and Nancy Sinatra records alongside her dog-eared Elaine Paige and Barbra Streisand songbooks. The retro tip is cute, if not quite a seamless marriage of moods.

Still, after Batt had her pigeonholed as an adult contemporary diva by the age of 25, a bit of experimentation can't hurt. "A Moment of Madness" imagines Norah Jones as a Kurt Weill cabaret chanteuse, Katie riding producer William Orbit's burlesque musical merry go round for every titillating nipple capped cue that comes her way.

She's even better – and more believable - on the ballads. Particularly the bittersweet ones. "Red Balloons" is a teardrop in your cup of Chai tea lament about, well, you know "putting your heart in a red balloon and letting it go too soon". The sentiments may sound saccharine, but like all classic confessional pop, less is so much more.

Lyrically Katie hits pay dirt when she hooks up with Robbie Williams' former pen-man Guy Chambers. "Tiny Alien" is a delightful little poetic indie folk pop parable about coming out of the closet – creatively speaking. It's also the perfect platform for Orbit to unfurl some of his sublimely quirky orchestral electro-pop signatures. Dear Reader fans, this is the one Katie Melua ditty you can finally confess to having on high rotation your iPod!

Katie's arguably even more bewitching on her own songs. "No Fear of Heights" is an enchanting unplugged confessional about the toe-curling freedom of falling head over heels in love. "I didn’t like getting deep, I was scared if what I couldn't keep, but when you give me love, I have no fear of heights" sings Katie over a simple acoustic strum. Cheesy? Sure, but her vulnerability is completely captivating. As is her resigned reading of bluegrass guru Bill Monroe's "The One I Love is Gone" where she channels just enough of Billie Holiday's bruised blues while BJ Cole's spare slide guitar tugs gently at your heartstrings.

Unfortunately, "Plague of Love" pretty much tosses nuance out of the window. Orbit's orchestral disco pop groove is a creative cul-de-sac for Katie. She reads repeatedly from her Shirley Bassey crib notes, but just doesn't sound comfortable with a brassy faux-funk arrangement that's tailored towards a sassier siren like Amy Winehouse.

It's a momentary lapse of reason though, with Katie rediscovering her muse on a pair of “edgy” indie-dance rock excursions, "God On Drums, Devil on the Bass" (with ex-big daddy Mike Batt) and "Twisted". The former sees Orbit unfurl a swathe of exaggerated electro bleeps, breaks, beats and brass that captures Katie caught in some kind of pyscho-sexual purgatory. While the latter's a blankly erotic trip hopped hip shaker that sits snugly between Beth Gibbons and Alison Goldfrapp’s lap dances.

"I'd love to kill you with a kiss, I'd like to strike you down with bliss, I'd like to tie you up in knots until your heart stops" coos Katie Melua over a lilting guitar picked melody. It's an erotic chamber pop come-on about the mating game. Right, so it's business as usual for the platinum-selling British pop nightingale, then?

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