A Sides is an an interesting chronicle of an artist’s slow transformation, showing Brooke Fraser’s evolution from typical folksy, Christian singer-songwriter, into a fully-fledged pop songstress. Fraser has had a hand in many of Hillsong’s bigger hits, and no matter your opinion of that particular organisation, it’s impossible to deny that she has a way with a hook. Not all of the tracks on A Sides are of value, but there are some very catchy tunes here, and they form a fascinating document of Fraser’s move away from her Hillsong roots.
The most immediately apparent thing that changes throughout Fraser’s discography is a change from emotive folk, to more bombastic pop. Her early tracks like Arithmetic are slickly produced, but minimal. Unfortunately, the glossy production seems to detract from the emotionality of the tracks, and render the religion-heavy lyrics in an uncomfortably commercial light. As one gets closer to her current work, with songs like Kings & Queens and Something in the Water, the drama is pared back, and she embraces some pop tropes and levity that make music eminently more likeable.
The other change of note is the increasing abstraction of Fraser’s lyrics. Early tracks like Shadow Feet are fairly explicitly about worship, with lines like “when the world has fallen out from under me / I’ll be found in you, still standing” being prevalent. However, a look at the lone new track on A Sides, Therapy, reveals that she’s now much more concerned with documenting her internal struggles, a theme that adds a more universal appeal to her increasingly poppy songs. She has some lovely, poetically relatable imagery in the track – “like a serpent in the sun / I will bask, I will lay in the light till the day is done” – and lends credence to the idea that her artistic evolution has been for the better.
Fraser’s early work may not hold up very well nowadays, and is easily lumped in with the sappier end of folk-pop, but her new material is catchy, and well-written, with a more distinct sense of identity. By virtue of including material from across her career, A Sides is somewhat inconsistent, but it’s value isn’t in the songs themselves, but their changing nature.