With the adoption of the Vera Blue moniker and the release of the Fingertips EP a little over twelve months ago, Celia Pavey made it strikingly clear that she had matured beyond being a TV talent show also-ran. Fingertips was a brief, yet powerful, statement of a young artist taking control of their career and creativity, and forging a new musical identity that, while not incongruous with that which preceded it, struck out in a new direction. It was a bold decision, but the right one.
With Vera Blue’s debut album, Perennial, Pavey hasn’t sought to reinvent the wheel she rolled out with the EP. If anything, she has doubled down on the formula that proved so successful last year. Once again, she has partnered with Andy and Thom Mak, who produce and co-write, and folk-tinged electro-pop is the order of the day. Knowing that her voice is the drawcard, and recognising the value in restraint, Pavey selectively deploys the gorgeous vocal harmonies and layers, and the surprising combinations of these with the music, throughout Perennial.
This restraint is commendable – too many artists fall prey to the idea that virtuosic performances are a substitute for compelling writing – and shows great judgement. In theory. Many of Perennial’s individual tracks lack a distinct character, and may just as easily be the product of any anonymous pop-performer. See Overachiever and the bland dance anthem, Regular Touch, as cases in point. That’s fine, the album’s narrative arc of recovering, or more accurately – as is made clear by second single and closing number, Mended – never fully recovering from the heartbreak of a failed relationship provides a degree of interest across the span of the album.
Lead single Private contrasts listless verses with semi-chaotic bursts of beats on the chorus, embodying the disjointed and disturbed fantasies of the lyrics. It’s reminiscent of Bjork’s more subdued moments and, coupled with the syncopated Lady Powers, recaptures the best elements of Fingertips. Magazine’s ambiguity regarding whether the song’s object is a nameless celebrity or Pavey’s public persona and Fools approach to flagging infatuation offer some of Perennial’s strongest lyrical moments.
Perennial’s greatest fault is that it follows Fingertips, a collection of songs that was so unexpected and well executed that it set incredibly high standards for what followed. In this regard, Pavey was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. While Perennial fails to excite, Pavey has demonstrated that she is keen to continually grow as an artist, trying a little more of this and a little less of that, and this is a path that should see her have a long, successful, career.