Even at her beginning stages it was Gabrielle's self-penned songs that hooked me. Her poetic, almost parable-like lyrics got me right in my hipster heart, in the same way (but not the same way at all) in which T-Swift's immature boy-bashings relate to broken hearted 13 year old girls!
Most people now know Gabrielle as the artist behind the Christmas 2013 cover of The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, which was featured in the John Lewis Christmas advert, and made no. 1 in the UK charts. What a lot of reviewers don't seem to realize is that this sudden success merely sped up the inevitable; Aplin was always going to be noticed. She has been quietly cultivating her audience in the youtube world over the years, and this has given her the edge in the months leading up to English Rain's release. The Power of Love's unexpected success was merely a stepping stone. Signing onto Parlophone records, Gabrielle shrewdly went back to her roots and her fanbase, relying on her online presence and the strength of her original songwriting rather than banking everything on the successful no. 1 single. English Rain was set up for success after the release of her EPs Please Don't Say You Love Me and Panic Cord. I have always enjoyed Gabrielle's EPs but I've been itching for a full length album to be released. After listening to the debut at length I can honestly say that it doesn't disappoint, but it's far from perfect.
Don't let the fact that Aplin's career began online, and at age 17 cause you to jump to conclusions. There are far worse places to enter the music world these days (X-Factor anyone?), and this is no repetition of the Bieber storyline. Gabrielle has shown a strange, and unique maturity and her special way with words sets her apart from the crowd of undiscovered artists scrambling to be noticed. Hipster fans of The Lumineers, Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling etc. will find English Rain more than appealing, but there is also enough catchy fun to please mainstream radio listeners.
Not surprisingly The Power of Love (the only cover) is highly misplaced in the album selection and it might have been better left out. On the other hand, Aplin is still relatively obscure and to remind her audience of who she is, could be seen as necessary. The re-recording of Panic Cord (it was featured on her 2011 EP Never Fade) was a smart move and opens the album with the almost playful musings of a relationship gone horribly wrong. With a bang it's followed by Keep on Walking an appropriate anthem that gives Aplin the opportunity to belt her feelings. Staying true to her acoustic roots, there is enough indie folk in tracks like How Do You Feel Today, Panic Cord, Ready to Question and Please Don't Say You Love Me (Aplin claims that this song was inspired by the film 500 Days of Summer which makes me love it even more than I already do!), the beautiful and intimate Home (featured in the 2012 EP by the same name) is given a makeover which seems pointless at first, but once the climax of the song is reached, it's never sounded better. Gabrielle shows off the sweetness in her voice in piano ballad Salvation; "...my salvation, my my..." Alive, Human and November make use of Gabrielle's band although they deviate into generic territory. Alive is quite a beautiful song, and it's Aplin lyrics at their best in November;
"I left you out in the English rain
To soak you through and dilute the blame
Don't ever want to hear those words today
You made me high then you swooped so low
From a hummingbird to a silent crow
I was on your side but then I saw it change"
Human, however, is probably the weakest track on the album, which sounds almost like an Ellie Goulding track. Not such a terrible thing, but we've heard it before. All and all it's a great debut, but it's never ground breaking. Gabrielle's voice has matured while retaining it's purity and sweetness, but I still wonder if she can handle singing with a backing band. She has a good range, but she clearly struggles with control in parts. Having said that this adds a raw quality to the album. Part of Gabrielle's charm is that her voice is beautiful but imperfect, which also sums up English Rain neatly. It's not anything we haven't heard from Gabrielle before, but hopefully she'll learn from the flaws of this debut and up the game with her second album.
A disclaimer to my U.S. readers: for some reason iTunes isn't cooperating and has not only failed to release English Rain in America, but has also deleted her acoustic, Never Fade, Please Don't Say You Love Me and Panic Cord EPs for some inexplicable reason. However, the hard copy is available on Gabrielle's homepage, and Amazon is selling the mp3 download too. Enjoy!