Born and raised in the small Scottish town of Blackburn, Susan Boyle’s rise to fame is an astonishing story of humility and providence. The songstress hurtled to international stardom in 2009 after she swapped the choir vestry of her local church for the stage of Britain’s Got Talent, overwhelming the crowd with her moving rendition of I Dreamed a Dream from much-loved musical Les Misérables. Despite not winning the competition, the affecting footage of her audition had reached over 120 million views on YouTube by the end of that year, and her ensuing debut album I Dreamed a Dream reached #1 on charts in the UK, across Europe and in the USA.
Her sixth album in five years, Hope, picks up where Boyle left off, covering well-known songs with the perpetually heartrending voice the world fell in love with five years ago. All ten songs on the album centre on the theme of inspiration, including iconic songs written by John Lennon, Paul Simon and Sarah McLaughlin, as well as traditional spirituals and hymns.
Hope opens with a surprising and powerful rendition of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, in which Boyle seamlessly blends intimacy with innocence, before moving on to the immediately touching, immortal McLaughlin ballad, Angel. Boyle rightfully adds nothing exceedingly creative to the unforgettable song, other than her beautiful voice. She lends her eternally youthful voice to Imagine, whose quality and pure tone is totally appropriate for this naïvely optimistic and inspirational song.
Boyle also takes us to church with her sincere and heartfelt performance of hymn Abide With Me, as well as the more upbeat traditional spiritual Will The Circle Be Unbroken. A buoyant rendition of Oh Happy Day picks the whole album up, before Boyle, joined by Lakewood Church Choir, closes with a soulful, live version of You Raise Me Up that takes us from the liturgy of the catholic church to a gospel-imbued testimony.
While Susan Boyle’s voice is, as expected, what sustains Hope, her style is somewhat predictable, and her own versions sometimes lack creativity. Regardless, she has the ability to seamlessly transition from raw and dramatic, to ethereal singing with endless sensitivity and near pitch perfection. A talent that, due to the shallow nature of the entertainment industry, as well as her own anxieties, went unnoticed for almost half a century.