Arriving a year since the US release of her last effort, Pictures, Katie Melua’s newest recording, The House (her fourth), happens to be the British songbird’s most sparkling effort since the defining 2003 debut Call Off The Search. Not to declare that such audience favourites as Piece by Piece failed to show off her voice at its most dazzlingly mellow and haunting, but listeners will appreciate The House (Dramatico Entertainment), perhaps mainly for representing a mild departure for Melua into more energetic territory, yet not completely abandoning the soulful, melancholy delight that made her a beloved indie star.
That Melua can transform simple poetry into transcendent, profound music, as she does beautifully on The House, is testament to her astounding skill as a lyricist and her finely tuned ear for melody. Overall, the new album is a warm, melodic collection of tuneful folk-pop and acoustic tracks, with traces of jazz, blues, bluegrass, naked music and art-house goodness.
The highlights are numerous, most notably the wonderfully jazzy “Plague of Love,” about longing and intimate human relationships, two subjects Melua consistently explores with mastery on her albums. She conjures up stunning imagery on the sublimely poetic “Red Balloons,” a complete study in heartbreak and desolation, and goes for Broadway-esque sensibility on “A Moment of Madness.”
The sorrowful, atmospheric slant continues with the Bill Monroe-penned “The One I Love Is Gone,” a tear-drenched farewell to a lost love. Melua has never been more mesmerizing. By the middle of the disc, however, you encounter minor disappointments like “Tiny Alien” and later “God on the Drums, Devil on the Bass,” two decent cuts, which, sadly, fall short lyrically.
But that almost becomes an immaterial quibble when one considers other splendid offerings like “Twisted,” a mid-tempo electro groove that recalls Melissa Etheridge, and the title track, which also falls into Melua’s wise meditation on the human condition. Then there are repeat-worthy gems like lead single “The Flood” (“..broken people get recycled…”) and “A Happy Place,” both piercing odes to freedom and self-discovery.
Melua’s skilful approach to songwriting is evident on 11 of the album’s 12 tracks, all of which were produced by London-based William Orbit. Long-time collaborator Mike Batt still contributes here but his role is greatly reduced this outing.
Once again, Melua delivers an enigmatic set that serves her talent remarkably well. The House is compellingly a haunting, memorable soundtrack to lazy weekend afternoons – or a long, winding trip to the country. In any case, Melua’s soothing vocals and luminous aura are perfect companions.
DOWNLOAD: “The Flood,” “The One I Love Is Gone” and “Plague of Love”
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