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Album Review: Corinne Bailey Rae – Black Rainbows

3 min read

English singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae is welcoming autumn with her spellbinding new album Black Rainbows. Best known for her chart-topping hit Put Your Records On, Bailey Rae has enchanted audiences with softly spoken soul tracks, a sound which dominated her 2006 self-titled debut Corinne Bailey Rae and 2010 sophomore album The Sea. Bailey Rae’s 10-track project Black Rainbows is her fourth studio album and first full release in seven years. While her last album The Heart Speaks In Whispers showed moments of experimentation with more electronic elements from the artist, Black Rainbows feels like her most ambitious musical venture to date.

Opening track A Spell, A Prayer casts an eclectic soundscape over listeners in a interplay of Bailey’s delicate, careful vocal delivery, unexpectedly sharp electric melodies, flittering harps and a crawling bassline. “We honour you/We make a spell, a prayer for you,” Bailey Rae sings, creating a particularly mystical atmosphere. With the strong progression of erratic guitar and Bailey Rae’s echoey vocals, the track develops a feeling of otherworldliness. The soundscape is an endearingly peculiar navigation of unfamiliar territory that grants an instant sense of intrigue for the listener. Holding an open mind towards the risks that Bailey Rae is willing to take with her musicianship is paramount for this record, as its trajectory is unpredictable. This is the case with predominantly instrumental title track Black Rainbows, on which buzzy electronic beats fuse with a discordant saxophone around smatterings of jazz keys. It is a unique mix reminiscent of a Thundercat jazz fusion, a fascinating number through and through.

Bailey Rae switches things up once again with intense following track Erasure. It has a riotous punk rock feel with fuzzy riffs and Bailey Rae’s high-powered no-nonsense vocals. The style is on par with its subject matter, as Bailey Rae chronicles the exclusion faced as a black child growing up. It is raw, emotional, and cutting, balanced by the spacey introduction of Earthlings; “Don’t you know earthlings, you can start again? / Simply press refresh to begin again.” The album’s halfway point, Red Horse, calms with gentle chimes and shadowy instrumentation. It feels pensive and simultaneously hopeful as Bailey Rae sings of someone that she has been longing for; “And I wanted to know you/And I wanted to know your heart.”

The second half of the album continues with stand-out tracks. He Will Follow You With His Eyes brings out Bailey Rae’s deeply felt nature. It initially plays, with a neo-psychedelic feel, her vocals hold an ethereal, harmonious quality and flirt with subtle percussion. Bailey Rae rejects society’s standards of what it means to be irresistible, instead choosing to stay true to herself in a celebration of her own defining features: “My plum red lipstick/My black hair kinking/My black skin gleaming.” A notable track which weighs in at eight minutes long is Put It Down, which takes its time to release Bailey Rae from her burdens and transform into a pop-fuelled dance track. At the end of the day, all you really need is to dance it out. Before The Throne Of The Invisible God draws upon the same mystical essence of the record’s owner. It possesses an air of mystery as Bailey Rae sings against building saxophone notes, delicate strings, chimes, and sounds of nature. If getting lost in an enchanted forest could be described with a song, this would be the best one to do it.

Black Rainbows is a full-bodied collection and a major creative jump for Corinne Bailey Rae. The record transcends Bailey Rae’s R&B persona, taking different approaches to exploring personal themes and highlighting her ability to communicate introspective messages through various means as an artist. Black Rainbows is a fresh start for Bailey Rae that will have listeners dancing, headbanging and simply letting go all within the same record.