It was inevitable that Corinne Bailey Rae’s new album would be framed in the wake of her husband’s death from a drug overdose in 2008. But those expecting a funeral dirge will be surprised. Sure, there are moments of sadness and longing – the first and last cuts, specifically – but Rae’s sophomore effort is strong, upbeat and simply beautiful.
“Are you here?” is the question and the title of the opening cut, and the song is emotional, but it’s more about remembrance, not sadness. The music is sublime, always returning to a six-note phrase before building up and blossoming into a shimmering chorus. The feeling continues in “I’d Do It All Again” as she laments, “Its terrifying, life, through the darkness, but I’d do it all again.” And it comes across as an almost joyous expression.
Rae’s first album was eclectic, but it’s one-dimensional compared to this release. She runs the gamut, from old-school soul to surf punk and pop. But there’s something more here: Each song is alive, with various starts and stops, crescendos and quiet moods. Rae shows that there is more to a song than just chords, melodies, words and instruments. In fact, during the perfect upbeat track “Paris Nights/New York Mornings,” you actually tell she’s smiling while she’s singing, and as the song builds, you find yourself tapping your foot and smiling as well.
Rae’s voice is fragile, almost childlike in some ways, and it’s a welcome relief to the divas who find a need to oversing on every number. Her whisper captures attention, and during those times that she does wail, it’s either a cry of joy or sadness. The occasional cracks in her singing convey heartbreak or longing – she’s a master storyteller in the way she uses her voice.
Listening to this album is a complete joy, and it’s only at the title track, which closes the album, that you remember her loss again. The song is a slow, somber finale, and she leaves us with her cathartic confession: “The sea, the majestic sea / Breaks everything, crushes everything, cleans everything / takes everything from me.” Grief is a strong emotion, but Rae uses it well, and shows that it is humanity’s way to feel alive in the midst of death.