I have always felt there is an honesty and humanity in Gabrielle’s work that makes it stand out from the manufactured pop that floods the airwaves. It has been a bright light twinkling in a sea of mediocrity for the last three decades. Gabrielle also is an artist who doesn’t feel like she needs to be in the limelight all the time. There have been noticeable gaps between each album release; the last album being eleven years ago. Absence really does make the heart grow stronger.
The new album ‘Under My Skin’ is released on 17 August but ‘Thank You’, ‘Shine’ and ‘Show Me’ have already been making waves over the last few months on social media. As tasters for the main course they give a strong idea how the album will sound.
‘Thank You’ has a feel reminiscent of ‘Remember Me’ by Diana Ross or the version of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ by the Supremes with The Temptations, and there is a lot of that classic Motown sound on the album. The producers and writers at Motown knew how to make a perfect pop song and Gabrielle has soaked up this expertise until the songs drip with it. She knows how to hook you in on a simple intro, how to pull you into a verse, guide you to a smash chorus with a bridge, then break down into a middle eight, before raising the game for the final choruses. Saying that, there is not a hint of a cynical hitmaker at work; the songs grow organically rather than satisfying some set parameters or following a formula. ‘Young and Crazy’ and ‘Take A Minute’ have a similar vibe, but step away slightly from that Motown sound by simply using a Hammond organ – it still sounds vintage but more English.
‘Show Me’, ‘Put Up A Fight’ and ‘Stronger’ sound more contemporary in both the production and the song arrangement, but still with that classic Gabrielle feel. Of course, Gabrielle’s voice is central to everything and it still sounds as good as ever.
Songs that more than any other sound like they take inspiration from both old school soul and new RnB, are the stunning ‘Signs’ and beautiful ‘Breathe’. They have massive drums, but soft backing vocals and a delicate electric guitars. Gabrielle seems to pick the best bits of genres she loves and puts them together seamlessly.
What is pretty obvious is that Gabrielle has made an album of singles. Every track you can hear being played on the radio; they are literally littered with hooks and bounce out of your speakers. Even the obligatory slow ballad ‘Won’t Back Down’ is a worthy chart contender.
What makes Gabrielle one of our finest artists is her ability to be unaffected by current fashions. She comes back with a strong album but does not attempt to sound like anyone who is currently successful. She does her own thing and I love that. She has a timeless quality and I believe she always has; for instance, when ‘Give Me A Little More Time’ came out in 1996 she was doing old school soul, then ‘Forget About the World’ later that year was like 70’s Shaft, when everyone else was trying to be Oasis, Spice Girls or The Fugees. Gabrielle cuts her own path and she always does it with class and soul. I just hope we don’t have to wait another 11 years for more.
Reviewer: Alan Neilson
Album Artwork courtesy of PR.