CD: Katie Melua – Secret Symphony | New music reviews, news & interviews
CD: Katie Melua – Secret Symphony
Lovely but cautious return from the Bejing bicycle botherer
The ubiquity of the all-conquering Adele has obscured the fact the her trail was blazed by Katie Melua. She was the biggest UK-based female act in 2007, when her album Pictures became a world-wide best seller. Five years on, with the release of her fifth album, you wonder if there’s room left for Melua.
'Secret Symphony' has the feeling of comfort zones being reinstated
Her last album, 2010’s The House, was produced by William Orbit rather than Mike Batt, the Wombles mastermind who had steered her career up to that point. Although Guy Chambers cropped up on one track, it was mostly written by Melua. Previously the balance of her albums included covers ranging from the unexpected (The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”) to the less surprising (Randy Newman’s “I Think it’s Going to Rain Today”). But whatever she does, her perceived lack of edge – her niceness too – means Melua is often seen as anodyne. It's a pity, and lazy, as she sings like a dream and her interpretations are always classy and heartfelt.
Secret Symphony is a return to home of sorts. It is produced and arranged by Batt, and there are more covers than original compositions: she has written one track, Batt four, and they’ve written one together. Melua has said that the album is about her finding beautiful songs, and they range from a straight, orchestrated version of Ron Sexsmith's “Gold in Them Hills (the album’s opener) to a dreamy, wistful take of Françoise Hardy’s “All Over the World”. But is a version of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” really required? However, Batt’s yearning “The Bit That I Don’t Get” is a highlight of her career, as is her own intimate, rolling “Forgetting All my Troubles”. No one is expecting Melua to reinvent herself. Secret Symphony is lovely but cautious, with a feeling of comfort zones being reinstated. It probably isn’t the album to return her to the heights of 2007.
Watch the video for “The Bit That I Don’t Get”, from Katie Melua's Secret Symphony
Share this article
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more New music
Drum & bass don returns with an album whose quality improves as it progresses
Muscular blues-rock debut from Brighton duo
A still-challenging artefact from art-punk provocateurs
A soft delivery and deceptively conversational tone hide a powerful writer
Manic Street Preachers, Janelle Monáe and a past that’s always present at Finland’s memorable urban festival
One of the year’s prettiest albums from the quirky German-American
Long-lost indie prophets pop up to reward the faithful
Sparse compositions from Finnish songwriter's haunted pen
A multi-sensory experience, celebrating wild behaviour outdoors as much as the arts
A banquet of exquisitely related misery from undersung London outfit
Songs from the new album hold their own against the back catalogue
The critic's darling talks Birmingham, fame, books and why she's re-recorded her debut album