Release Date: Jan 1, 2016
Record label: RCA
Genre(s): Pop, R&B, Folk, Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter
Rachel Platten's story isn't atypical. After more than a decade toiling away in the trenches of mainstream pop, she finally had her planets align in 2015 and had "Fight Song" -- an inspirational slice of AAA pop in the tradition of Sara Bareilles' "Brave" and Katy Perry's "Roar" -- turn into a genuine phenomenon, the result of good timing and hard work. Other stars of the 2010s followed a similar trajectory, including Perry herself, but in Platten's case, it's hard not to hear the mechanisms at work on her 2016 major-label debut, Wildfire.
It’s a matter of seconds before the first mention of fixing one’s broken wings arrives on this Boston singer-songwriter’s debut. The album’s backstory – 10 years of open mics and artistic strife – was launched with the spectacular success of Fight Song, a self-empowerment anthem that would soon score a thousand teen dramas. Failed experiments with frivolity aside (the misjudged rhyming couplet “Sing Hallelujah when you touch me / Hallelujah Jeff Buckley” on Hey Hey Hallelujah being one of them), the record soars with a sense of plight and recovery so super-sized in conviction you’d think she was surviving the plague rather than facing the occasional rejection letter from a record label.
Newton Center-raised Rachel Platten had one of 2015’s upstart pop hits with “Fight Song,” a steadily determined self-affirmation that filled the Hot 100’s “inspirational smash sung by a woman” quota for the year. (Previous entrants: “Brave,” “Roar.”) On her first major-label full-length, Platten stays the course: The hooks are painted in Technicolor hues, the lyrics employ broad metaphors, and Platten’s steady soprano ties them together. She shines most brightly when she ditches mid-2010s signifiers (gang-vocal “whoa-oh”s, stuttering vocals, the self-consciously “soulful” Andy Grammer, who shows up on the cutesy “Hey Hey Hallelujah”) for restrained singing and relatively unadorned songcraft.
It’s difficult to argue with the spirit of Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” one of last year’s biggest unexpected pop hits, which bristles with late-1990s optimism filtered through Katy Perry-scale sturm und drang. “This is my fight song/Take back my life song/Prove I’m all right song,” Ms. Platten shouts, lifting herself up from the doldrums and attempting to carry everyone else with her.