Brooke Fraser is an artist that I've loved and respected for a long time. The once Hillsong singer is one of the few artists I know that puts her blood, sweat and tears into her art, and still loves every minute of it, to a ludicrously, giddy degree. Brooke Fraser's last album Flags came out in 2010 and brought a brilliant close to her folk-pop sound. Now, four years later, Brooke has moved on into edgier, synth-pop territory. It's a completely new sound for Fraser, but not completely unforeseen. Even Flags was an artistic stretch for her, and Brutal Romance makes sense. With each of her previous three albums, Fraser seemed to develop and grow, taking bigger and braver strides each time, and this new album is her at her bravest and boldest. It's clear from interviews with the New Zealand artist, that she's extremely proud of her newest work (practically beaming), and presents her new sound with a mixture of excitement and humility.
The album opens with Fraser's raspy, sultry vocals introducing Psychosocial, a dark, take-no-prisoners number about social media. Thunder is a more upbeat number, but equally fierce. This is followed by Start a War, highly reminicent of a Lana Del Ray track, but Fraser honestly, is the superior vocalist and it shows in this number. Kings and Queens is the most appealing track to the universally, followed by Bloodrush which continues the motivational themes. In case you forgot or were momentarily distracted by the impressive audible aesthetic, Fraser reminds the listener that she's a poet, with the title track Brutal Romance. Fraser has always weaved highly intelligent lyrics in an audibly attractive package, and Brutal Romance is a solemn, grand poem put to slow building horns and piano. The track muses on the "spinning slow dance" of "life and death" the proverbial "brutal romance" we all know.
"All shapes and colors, rolled and stained in aging hands
Sculpted explosions, histories unfold
Our Jackson Pollocked earth turns
A silent witness.
Lonely asylumed, poets bequeath attempts
Romanticizing the brutality of the ages and of us
Avarice and lust
Je Suis Prêt, named after Fraser's Scottish family's historic mantra, continues the solemn themes about facing the darkness with courage and faith. Magical Machines use of technology as a metaphor is little derivative, but much stronger tracks New Histories and New Year's Eve end the album with returned lyrical muscle.
Brutal Romance is a complete turn around for Fraser in a genre sense, but it's as calculated and logical as it is daring and audacious. Fraser is spreading her artistic wings a little further, and we reap the sweet benefits.