Album: V.V. Brown, Travelling Like the Light (Island)

A refreshing alternative to run of production-line soul divas
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The Independent Culture

With her striking, idiosyncratic sense of style – part Grace Jones, part Andrews Sisters – and a musical approach for which she cites Ruth Brown, Elvis Presley and video game sounds as influences, rather than the standard R&B checklist of Whitney, Mariah and Beyoncé, young British singer V.V. Brown makes a refreshing alternative to the general run of production-line soul divas.

But the fact that her single "Shark in the Water" was offered – in promo form, at least – as no fewer than nine different remixes suggests a degree of uncertainty on Island's part as to where to position her in a marketplace fast shifting from last year's blue-eyed retro-soul divas to this year's retro-electropop girls.

And no wonder: for while she at least has the "retro" part well covered, V.V. Brown would probably struggle to fit in with the prevailing music fashions of any recent pop era. This can be a strength, but is risky in times when internet-accelerated coverage tends to hegemonise trends in youth culture, ironing out individual peculiarities and ensuring that things sound more alike than they might if acts had more time to develop their own sounds in private before being thrust upon the world.

Brown, however, sounds like she has the determination to impose herself upon events. "I'm like a comet coming from the broken sky," she announced on her debut single, "Crying Blood", a fairly straightforward rocker; but that and the retro-R&B follow-up "Leave!" did rather pigeonhole her as some sort of modern doo-wop diva, an impression that the rest of 'Travelling Like the Light' fails to completely dispel. "Quick Fix" opens the album in fairly perfunctory fashion, its brittle drum stomp and Farfisa organ stylings riding a standard 12-bar structure, before the horn-swathed R&B brush-off "Game Over" heralds a tranche of songs wrestling with the fallout of a relationship. A friend with a "bruised broken heart" (possibly herself) is advised that they're too easily "distracted by affection" in "Leave!", while further complaints about a feckless partner in "Back in Time" are attended by a portentous descending chord structure and sub-Spector dynamic.

Elsewhere, "Bottles" features a Duffy-esque Sixties manqué pop-soul approach, "L.O.V.E." employs an Adam Ant-style drum groove to lead into its corny jive/swing hook, and the piano ballad "I Love You" simply isn't sparkling or different enough to carry off a title as blunt as that. Things improve somewhat in the album's later stages, when synthesisers make their presence felt in the lolloping pop charm of "Crazy Amazing" and the title-track, but it's ultimately the light, understated pop-funk of "Shark in the Water" that remains the standout track.

Download this: 'Shark in the Water', 'Crazy Amazing', 'Travelling Like the Light'

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