Paloma Faith review, O2 Arena, London: Politically conscious pop

What Paloma Faith has constructed is a tonic for the very worst of what life throws at us... and a set of guidelines on how we can all just be a bit better

Ryan Butcher
Monday 19 March 2018 16:30 GMT

“It’s been a while since I played and I’m so grateful,” Paloma Faith says politely to the throng of thousands at London’s O2 Arena. “You’ve been really patient waiting for me while I’ve been on my maternity from work.”

There’s almost an innocent nonchalance which comes with her light-hearted quip, almost as if the singer herself doesn’t quite grasp the power and gravitas that comes with her new show’s triumphant opening gambit of “The Architect”, “Crybaby” and “Guilty” – three of her strongest tracks from last year’s comeback and perhaps career-best album The Architect. But then we get to the poignant underlying point of this particular on-stage monologue: “Most women would be worried there wouldn’t be a job waiting for them...”

What she is trying to say (we think, anyway) is that a lot has happened in those three-years-and-change between The Architect and 2014’s A Perfect Contradiction. Words like “Trump”, “Brexit” and “alt-right” all became quintessential parts of our everyday lexicon, sure, but you don’t have to scratch the surface to show that they’re merely manifestations of something much more sinister at play.

The very worst of humanity has become emboldened. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, the policing and pilfering of women’s bodies, the way we treat the elderly, the way we treat the young, the way we treat one another, the way we treat ourselves – something went wrong somewhere. It feels like the cloak of invisibility has been pulled off and most of us are starting to see the world for how bad it really can be.

But let’s entertain for a second the notion that a collection of perfectly-crafted pop songs can somehow make a difference. What Faith has carefully constructed for her new arena-bothering production is all at once a tonic for the very worst of what life throws at us and a set of guidelines on how we can all just be a bit better. You only need to look at the fact that 13 of the songs from her 19-strong set are taken from The Architect, a feat almost unheard of for someone with a back catalogue as rich and well-loved as Faith’s.

Whether she’s preaching about the importance of self-love and body positivity in “My Body” (“This might not be typical but it is all original/ Every little imperfection, they’re a gift and they’re a blessing”), condemning institutional police racism in “Kings and Queens” (“I’m remembering the day, I was just a girl / Thinking how cool this is, ‘My man is calling from jail!’”) or duetting sublimely with Zak Abel who sings John Legend’s part on “I’ll Be Gentle” (“’cos we all need a little kindness/ All this cruelty is so mindless”).

Right down to the portion of the evening when she commands everyone to get out of their seats and dance along to the triple threat of “Lullaby”, “’Til I’m Done” and “Changing”: every ounce of energy from Faith and her slickly produced band is spent on trying to heal the rifts between us. It’s why she ends the night with “Love Me As I Am”; a song she confesses is in no way her biggest hit or even her biggest banger... but perhaps the one with her most important message.

She may have joked at the start of the night about not having a job waiting for her after such a lengthy hiatus, but in reality, she has a job that’s more important than the one she had before: the politically conscious pop star we need.

Paloma Faith headlines Standon Calling festival this summer, taking place from 26 – 29 July

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