Leeds-born soul-jazz artist Corinne Bailey Rae has recently dropped her latest album The Heart Speaks in Whispers‘, after a six-year-long hiatus. While her unique blend of soul music remains concurrently weightless and captivating, this new album sings of rebirth and rejuvenation – a stark thematic departure from her previous album The Sea, a grief-stricken affair that dealt with the death of her then-husband.
In March 2008, Bailey Rae’s then-husband was found dead in a friend’s flat after an accidental overdose of alcohol and methadone. The 2010, The Sea is understandably infected with her loss, tempered by her experience and weighed down by its context. Her suffering also explains her six-year-long absence. As she put it herself in a 2010 interview with Independent: “For a huge period, I didn’t want to do anything. It was like a barrenness which I’d never experienced; this sense of time just stretching and stretching and not having anything to put into it all.”
Time has clearly been a healer – this follow-up album documents the storm breaking and light yet again emerging into Bailey Rae’s life and lyrics: “Like seeing the sun again/ after years of pouring rain on my soul/… Resurrect me from the pyre/… After all this bitterness”, she sings, in standout track ‘Caramel’. This theme of new beginnings also runs through a number of the other tracks on The Heart, including the marvellously dreamy number ‘Green Aphrodisiac’. Green being the colour of growth and life, Bailey Rae sings of rebirth and potential in the aspect of her previously bleak-looking love life: “And everything that I have planted is grown/ And all I need is time, earth, water, and the sunlight”. The soft, private ballad ‘High’ (on the Deluxe version of her album) tells overtly of her rediscovery of love in her second marriage: “Cause when I met you I was frozen/ Nothing left my heart was broken/ You came along/ Just like the perfect song”. ‘Hey, I Won’t Break Your Heart’ sings of a similar thawing of the heart: “Love is more hesitant a second time” yet “Oh, it seems it’s easy to love you/ You go to my head, Just like wine/ All the bitterness, it has left me”.
In a similar vein to the sultry neo-soul of Green Aphrodisiac’ and ‘High’, the rest of the album is rich with retro-futurist sounds, such as with hyper-digital delights ‘Been to the Moon’ and ‘Tell Me’ that draw to mind the likes of Frank Ocean’s modern revival of 70s jazzy psych-soul. These electric and groovy tunes also elicit parallels drawn to the likes of early Erykah Badu, especially in the upbeat yet sultry synth-funk of ‘Horse Print Dress’.
While some, such as The Guardian, denounce songs of the album as “unwelcome pandering to all markets”, such as the ballad ‘Stop Where You Are’. The Heart, most importantly, marks the dawning of a new phase in Bailey Rae’s personal life and is a renascence of the soulful vibrancy of her debut album. It is, for Bailey Rae and her music, at once a new beginning and a rediscovery of past self.By Lydia Shu