You have to love it when an artist comes back with a new album and a new style, and it feels like you have known them with this style for a long time. This is no different for the return of Brooke Fraser with her fourth Studio album, Brutal Romantic. If Flags was her Lilith Fair, drawing in styles from artists like Norah Jones, Sarah McLachlan and Indigo Girls, then Brutal Romantic is Brooke’s Lorde and Gaga or, closer to her home country, her Strawpeople or Phoenix Foundation.
Known for songwriting based predominantly around her acoustic guitar and piano (as you would expect from a song/songwriter of her calibre), Brooke decided to push her craft out into unfamiliar waters by not writing songs on her two main instruments. In fact, in a recent interview, Brooke mentioned how she “refused to write on a guitar or a piano” for this album. The result was something new and different.
Brooke gave us a taste of the newer darker sound and tones of her new album with the track “Psychosocial.” It is beat-heavy to the point that it could easily sneak into a Lorde set. Brooke’s vocals are cracked and raspy and not what those who love Brooke’s sounds would be used to hearing. However, Brooke is a master songwriter and she shows her understanding that layers and tone and contrast are all things that add to the mystique and magic of music.
Brooke is a bit more poppy and upbeat in her single “Kings and Queens.” The song starts off with layers of herself singing “We’ve got a long way to go but we got the energy / It took a little while to find reality” before the beat comes in and lifts the song. Those who were a bit sceptical of her dark tones that were introduced to us in “Psychosocial” will be pleased to hear a more pop-infused track, albeit layered with beats and synth rather than a more natural sound.
Some of the sounds are so familiar to New Zealand and Australasian audiences, especially the track “Thunder.” It is the sound of Kiwi summer, reminiscent of Strawpeople, an award-winning beat-laden duo who used to collaborate with artists such as Bic Runga and Anika Moa. You hear the influence of a UK/European industrial sound with a typical Kiwi melodic flavour riding over the top.
The title track “Brutal Romantic” is, ironically, one of the most Brooke-sounding songs on the album. Brooke’s breathtakingly beautiful voice soars over a lovely bed of sound with poetic accents scattered throughout. “All shapes and colours / Rolled and stained in aging hands / Sculpted explosions / Histories unfold / Our Jackson Pollocked earth turns / A silent witness” in reference to the influential American abstract expressionist.
People long for more and more from their pop music. They want a show and they want to be entertained. However, with the sugar-laced tunes we have been forced to listen to, it’s great to find artists who continue to push their own comfort zones musically while still delivering us songs and lyrics with depth and meaning.
People want fashion, beauty and a depth of soul. They want to know that what they feel is genuine. Brooke delivers on all fronts, even if at times she uses the tension of the darkness to shine light on the beautiful things.