sat 20/04/2024

Paloma Faith, Somerset House | reviews, news & interviews

Paloma Faith, Somerset House

Paloma Faith, Somerset House

Post-Winehouse, post-structuralist pop at its finest

You gotta have Faith. The ex-magician's assistant casts a spell of her ownRebecca Pierce

Paloma Faith has always struck me as a few cuts above your average conveyor belt post-Winehouse soul sister. A recent appearance on The Graham Norton Show in which she gave Russell Brand as good as she got in the verbals department suggests that there's more to this former magician's assistant than meets the eye.

And 15 minutes into last night's gig, the first of her two shows as part of Somerset House's Summer Series, she firmed up her gobby intellectual credibility by name-dropping lefty post-Structuralists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

This intriguing moment came during some entertaining mid-set banter when Faith invited her fans to sing along and proposed that, philosophically speaking as well as actually, the audience had become the backing vocalists and the backing vocalists had become the audience. You don't get this sort of thing from Lana Del Ray. This aside from the Kundera-reading, Hackney-born chanteuse possibly went over the heads of most of her fans, a significant number of them women, who seemed more like a Fifty Shades of Grey kind of demographic – not an insult, just an honest observation that Faith has a very mainstream female following.

Despite the new album's darker hue, the gig was relentlessly upbeat Faith does not quite have the propulsive show-stopping pipes of Adele, lacking both the range and the emotional depth, but onstage she more than made up for this deficiency with an excess baggage of personality. Her look gave her a headstart. Literally. She resembled Carmen Miranda minus the Latin film starlet's trademark fruit-based hat, with her striking red hair piled high and tight as she strutted around throwing sultry shapes, dramatically extending her bare arms and playfully sticking out her bottom. At one point, during the unreleased track "Cellulite", she lifted her ankle-length skirt to show off her very slightly wobbly thighs. "I think I might be saving it for a Dove commercial," she joked of this joyful celebration of real bodies that producer Nellee Hooper advised her to leave off her recent downbeat second album Fall to Grace because it was too jolly.

The bulk of the gig was a snappy, never-dull mixture of shameless album-plug and greatest hits. There is something endearingly contradictory about the gutsy 27-year-old’s approach to life and stardom. On the one hand she is clearly every bit as ambitious as Madonna – "Think a bit above your station then you might get there," she suggested at one point; on the other she was not sure about the release date of her next single, “30 Minute Love Affair” (it’s 12 August, dear). She has a wonderfully mischievous, anarchic streak, hating rules and conventionality, but respected the gig curfew that scuppered Bruce Springsteen at the weekend.


Despite the new album having a darker hue than its predecessor, with its themes of break-up and thwarted romance, the gig was relentlessly upbeat. “Freedom” had a cheerful gospel kick to it, and Faith was quick to smile her cheeky smile as she sat on the piano and delivered her distinctively bleak take on the traditional love song “Just Be", complete with the slash-your-wrists lyric, “Let’s be unhappy together”. A bruised cover of Bettye LaVette’s "Let Me Down Easy" was a more conventional take on the troubled relationship theme.

But it was the hits that the audience had come for and towards the end they got them in rapid succession. Her breakthrough single “New York” still retains plenty of soul oomph despite overfamiliarity, while the noirish title track of her 2009 debut album “Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful?” had the crowd swaying and singing along in empathetic unison. For an encore she concluded with the recent chart-botherer “Picking Up the Pieces". The rain stayed mostly away, the fans went home happy, and presumably Faith went home to snuggle up with some post-structuralist literature

Follow Bruce Dessau on Twitter

Watch Paloma Faith perform "Picking up the Pieces"

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