Sometimes in my listening I forget that there is a person there. I hear their sounds, their art, projected into the world for consumption and comfort, and selfishly I say, “this is for me,” and judge it accordingly. That couldn’t be further from the truth. This is for THEM, the artist, and only by their own grace do they share such intimacies with us. Corinne Bailey Rae has been much more than the sum of her music to me, and in her six year absence I seemed to have forgotten that. In her first album she spoke of life and love in the simplest way, through passion and joy, told with the innocence that accompanies the youthful perception of those emotions, but from a place of maturity and understanding. Then, while working on her follow up, she was forced to endure a tragedy I can’t even begin to imagine, the sudden loss of her husband. That album was scrapped and a new one began. The Sea is, in many ways, the opposite end of the spectrum that Corinne Bailey Rae, her self titled debut, offered. Dealing with not only the pain and sorrow, but also the questioning of things you had held so sacred and the ability to move forward. What she accomplished was beautiful, not just in handling the weight of her situation, but in her ability to put those complex emotions into our ears in such an accessible way; speaking to her talent, and her strength.
I’m not sure if it needs to be said, but those two records are among my favorites of all time. Neither have aged, neither will. So when The Heart Speaks In Whispers came along, after a lengthy silence, I didn’t know how to handle it. With her first two records I felt comfort, and familiarity; this album didn’t feel familiar at all, it felt distant. The singles felt like a different artist. Not an evolved artist, a different artist. I listened over and over looking for something, and though I’d get glimpses here and there, it wasn’t enough. That same month (May), Corinne’s record was bookended by two of my favorite releases of the year, Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool had shown up the week before, and Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book later that month. In both instances, that instant connection I’d been longing for showed up, so I set Corinne aside and turned my energies elsewhere. And, as these things go, with so much new music coming in, her album fell deeper and deeper into the depths, being dusted off occasionally, but never to be heard in full, never getting the chance it deserved.
That changed on Monday. After watching her NPR Tiny Desk performance (which is the topic of the latest Weekly Update), I immediately dove back in. One of the reasons I fell so hard for Corinne is the love she exudes on the stage. It is absolute and pure. I’ve never seen someone as genuine on stage as her, you truly feel everything she has to give. To experience what I did at her shows is why I go to concerts in the first place, and the fact that it’s such a rarity that I attain that only adds to my infinite affection for her artistry. The Heart Speaks In Whispers is not a perfect album, but it is a perfect reflection of where she is. Six years is a long time. A long time to be absent, a long time to grow and reflect, both emotionally and artistically. It only makes sense that she developed new tastes and new influences. Add in her personal struggles (and triumphs, she remarried!) and that growth was as predictable as it was necessary. The fact that, dealt with everything, she came out the other side stronger and found happiness again is a beautiful thing. This album speaks to that.
As a whole, The Heart Speaks In Whispers is more balanced than I initially thought. Tracks “Been To The Moon,” “Green Aphrodisiac,” and “Taken By Dreams” show progression, while others, like “The Skies Will Break” and “Stop Where You Are,” stray away from the style Corinne has employed in the past. Though it’s songs like “Hey, I Won’t Break Your Heart,” “Caramel,” and the beautiful album ender “Night,” (my favorite on the album) that tie everything together, reminding us just why we love her so much in the first place. Never has an artist combined jazz, R&B, pop, soul, and a handful of other influences, so delicately, so seamlessly. Her voice finds its strength in the intimate corners, but when she decides to break out of that quiet, calming delivery, she shines just as bright. She also employs a more diverse array of instruments here, leading her towards new and more complex sounds. It feels good to have found a harmony with this record, but it feels better to know that I still have a lot more exploring to do.
This newfound appreciation of an album I needed time away from before settling into, has me feeling good. I think I was so scared of denouncing it I stayed away, that way I would never have to; but Corinne is one of the loves of my life (musically speaking…but like…maybe if we met…?), and I was too impatient to renew that love initially, so I’m glad I waited. The album, for all it’s positives, still doesn’t touch The Sea, but I was mistaken in thinking that it had to. The Heart Speaks In Whispers follows a different path. Showing a contentedness and a maturity that only someone who has been through what she has can ascend too, if you’re willing to fight for it. She sets that tone right off the bat in the aforementioned “The Skies Will Break,” telling those of us who are down that things will get better. And while it’s something all of us have heard time and again, coming from her, someone who has been lower than many, I believe it. She is proof.