Album Review: The Heart Speaks in Whispers by Corinne Bailey Rae
Great, Based on 12 Critics
Paste Magazine - 80 Based on rating 8.0/10
“I felt my music was left of center,”Corinne Bailey Rae confessed during a 2010 interview with The Independent, surprised at the huge success of her debut album, which went four times platinum. The interviewer disagreed, citing Rae’s knack for melody; her breezy, honeyed voice; and her personable music videos, but in retrospect, Rae’s self-assessment feels right-on. Since her debut, the British singer, songwriter and producer has had a penchant for experimentation, slyly stretching her voice up and down, tinkering with song structure, styling her own hair.
Throughout her career, Grammy-winning R&B singer Corinne Bailey Rae has been portrayed as a cheerful songwriter, with sweetly quiet, tender lyrics that complement the acoustic guitar she often carries in hand. But after Rae's husband passed away in 2008, the British singer and songwriter went on creative hiatus, then returned with her gloomiest record to date, The Sea, in 2010. Now, after stepping away from the spotlight for six years, Rae returns with a record that finds her having grown and perfected the sound that made her name.The Heart Speaks in Whispers may not be Rae's most explicitly personal album, but it has a refined quality that the others don't.
2006 was an unforgettable year for seraphic-voiced Corinne Bailey Rae, whose eponymous chart-topping debut album went triple platinum in the UK, yielded four hit singles – including the memorable Put Your Records On – and picked up a myriad of awards. Since then, though, the chanteuse’s releases have been few and far between. This, only her third studio album, comes after a six-year hiatus that followed in the wake of 2010’s opus, The Sea.
It’s been a long while since we’ve heard from Corinne Bailey Rae – almost six years, to be precise. Her last album, The Sea, was a grief-stricken mediation on the death of her husband, and was an extraordinarily powerful, if inevitably uncomfortable, listen. It was a long way from the carefree young woman of a decade ago, and left us wondering what direction she’d take in future.
The gap between The Sea and The Heart Speaks in Whispers, Corinne Bailey Rae's second and third albums, was over six years in duration. During the wait for full-length number three, Bailey Rae released The Love EP, a brief set of covers that featured a Grammy-winning update of Bob Marley's "Is This Love." She married Steve Brown, a keyboardist and producer who had been a factor in all of her releases for Capitol. Bailey Rae also shifted from that label to Virgin and worked on new recordings with a handful of old and new collaborators, including Brown and Steve Chrisanthou, as well as Paris and Amber Strother of the emergent King.
Using the most euphemistic phrasing possible, music fans are a fickle breed. Artists met with applause and adoration upon their arrival are met with boos and barbarous social media criticisms after the slightest stumble. But in the last decade Corinne Bailey Rae has been consistently met with open arms. She has achieved upper-echelon status in the popular conscious, even though her latest offering, The Heart Speaks In Whispers, marks only her second studio album since her self-titled 2006 debut.
If you’ve kept up with Corinne Bailey Rae over the years, your mind likely goes to one place—to that dusty road where, in the video for “Put Your Records On,” she and a few friends biked casually through the countryside. It was a lovely scene, a strong sign of togetherness and femininity, set against a sunlit backdrop. It was the second single of Rae’s 2006 debut album, and one of the first times we saw the singer/guitarist, whose blend of soul music is equally weightless and captivating.
Which Corinne Bailey Rae do you prefer? Is it the coffee shop soul singer who burst on the scene in 2006 with “Put Your Records O””? How about the pop balladeer that won your heart with “Like a Star”? Perhaps it’s the R&B queen that pierces through on one of the singer’s latest singles, “Green Aphrodisiac”? You could choose any of those and not be disappointed with The Heart Speaks In Whispers. The Leeds-born singer’s third album touches on all the signature traits that make Corinne Bailey Rae the Corinne Bailey Rae her fans have grown to love over the last decade or so. She recently told the website Female First that she feels the album is “really, really diverse.
Corinne Bailey Rae’s luxuriant third album marks another rebirth, after The Sea (2010) soundtracked a period of mourning for the Leeds native’s first husband. Rich with on-point retro-futurist sounds, such as the gem-like, sultry neo-soul of Green Aphrodisiac, written with fellow travellers King, this Rae opus also boasts hyper-digital delights in the superlative single Been to the Moon and Tell Me. But there’s some unwelcome pandering to all markets in ghastly guitar ballad Stop Where You Are, a misstep looking for a Coldplay album, and a couple of tracks where smoothness wins out over personality.
Corinne Bailey Rae’s last album, 2010’s The Sea, was a grief-stricken affair that dealt with the death of her first husband. Time has been a healer, and this follow-up documents the storm breaking and light emerging into Bailey Rae’s life and lyrics: “Like seeing the sun again, after years of pouring rain,” she sings on standout track Caramel. Bailey Rae’s adoration of classic soul can be both a blessing and a curse.
Corinne Bailey Rae’s 2010 “The Sea” was one of the best pop albums of the last decade, a brooding, beautiful examination of loss and grief. Six years later she returns healed, exuding hope and whimsy on her often wondrous new record. Since her early hard-rock days, Bailey Rae has always been a restless explorer, and now she effortlessly traverses jazz, soul, and pop psychedelia.
Corinne Bailey Rae has always been able to capture the ephemeral, complex nature of love. Her 2006 self-titled debut, 2010's introspective The Sea, and 2011's The Love EP - all of which sound fresh and relevant today - showcase these explorations with unfettered honesty. Five years later, Rae returns, proving why she continues to hold an inimitable place in music.