It’s not uncommon for an artist to evolve in their musical direction. This could be said for Kiwi songbird Brooke Fraser, who’s best known for her brooding, acoustic tunes and her work with Hillsong. Throughout her career, Fraser has penned award-winning folk/pop hits, many of which have launched her onto the international spotlight. There is something unmistakable about her – from her dark eyes, luscious lips and raspy voice, she’s certainly won the hearts of her fans. But Fraser is ready to show off another side to her in Brutal Romantic, her fourth studio album. With its cool mix of synth pop, electronic and soul, this latest offering may take time for fans to get used to.
Perhaps we should look at this album as though she’s a completely new artist. After all, reinvention spices up an artist’s career, allowing room for growth. For comparison, you could say that her new sound is a bit like Lorde’s; the electronic influences and powerful choirs in Psychosocial, for example, create an epic and cinematic vibe similar to the fellow Kiwi’s. Fraser sounds a little monotone however; it doesn’t help that her vocals are digitally enhanced throughout the entire track. We’ll find that she uses such studio effects throughout the duration of her album – take Start a War, for example, another mild track despite what its title suggests. While the song builds up to a mighty chorus, it isn’t convincing enough to sell – she seems awkward amidst the easy beats and electro synths.
The album does get better as it progresses. Kings and Queens is a suitable choice for a first single – the chorus is rousing and triumphant, and its groovy beats make it the most accessible track on the album. It’s also got a positive message – ‘we’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve got the energy,’ Fraser belts, over psychedelic synths. Bloodrush is the same sort of laid back synth pop as its predecessor, only this time there’s an underlying electric guitar that carries the track. Fraser coos and croons her way through dipping melodies and thick harmonies, all the way to Brutal Romantic – perhaps the greatest track of all. This one utilises an orchestral feel, with its brass beginnings marking a sombre atmosphere. As the track swells in volume, other instruments have their moment too – such as the strings and a tinkling piano. We find that this one’s a winner simply because it’s so rich in variety; it certainly isn’t as bare as her old stuff, but it comes pretty damn close to the old Fraser.
But if you’re really nostalgic for the Albertine days, then give Je Suis Pret a listen. French for ‘I am ready’, the track is nothing like folk but at least she’s ditched the vocal effects – it’s a relief to hear her settle into her natural tone. The overall effect is haunting, echoey and downright beautiful, with a synth keyboard playing a delicate riff over a subdued drum kit. Her sweet falsettos are contrasted nicely with the dirty electronic guitar – all in all, it’s a hybrid mix between contemporary pop, electronic and slight rock, giving off a Lana Del Rey vibe. New Histories is also worth a listen, with its African style chant and tranquil melodies. The moaning backing vocals evoke a rather serene mood; a suitable atmosphere to reflect on life and existence. ‘We can write a new history,’ she croons, touching base on legitimate and political social issues. Her sound may have changed but the meaningful poetry will always remain, proving that no matter how experimental she is, she’ll never give in to the cliche’d pop/dance genre that dominates today’s charts.
The key is not to compare her new stuff to the old. Brutal Romantic marks the dawn of a new era, and if you close your eyes, she comes across as a completely new artist. And despite the few awkward bumps here and there, she pulls off this new sound rather well.