Paloma Faith loses shock factor, gets honest on ‘Fall to Grace’

Photo courtesy of RCA Records

Enigmatic British songstress Paloma Faith has had a big year. She was one of the celebrities who carried the Olympic torch across the U.K. this past summer. Her success has finally culminated in the U.S. release of her sophomore album, the cleverly titled, “Fall to Grace.”

The album is a steep departure from the loud, brass-laden singles that came off of her first album, “Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful?” such as, “Stone Cold Sober” and “Upside Down,” where Faith essentially declared her self-proclaimed insanity at full volume.

Instead, “Fall to Grace,” plays like an aural journal, as though she sat down at her piano with a tape recorder one evening, and this album was the result. Even with the total capacity of her vocal ability behind “Just Be,” the track still doesn’t sound aggressively loud. Instead, it sounds impassioned, and the shift in tone is certainly a sign of songwriting maturity.

In that sense, perhaps “Fall to Grace” is an apt title, because the music on this album is stripped down in comparison to Faith’s debut. It sounds cleaner, and as a result, her purpose reads clearer.

Faith has an interesting quality to her voice that is reminiscent of jazz and blues singers like Aretha Franklin and Amy Winehouse. It certainly is capable of competing with the likes of Adele and Alicia Keys, and this lends itself to the strength of tracks like the post-breakup ballad, “Beauty of the End,” and the album’s lead single, “Picking up the Pieces.”

However, the album does begin to fall into a rut after about six or seven songs, as the tracks start to blend together into one long, 40-minute soul-pop confessional. There’s something to be said for consistency in songwriting style, but the first half “Fall to Grace” risks sounding too homogenous, particularly since the large majority of the album deals with relationship themes.

On the other hand, with the song “Agony,” Faith saves the latter third of the album from falling into a musically tedious rut.  It’s still mid-tempo, but Faith’s voice sounds grittier, the music is more distorted and suddenly there’s an element of surprise, keeping a listener interested throughout the track and the rest of the record.

She goes on to wrap-up the album with the up-tempo, piano-driven track “Freedom,” which is 3 minutes of full-out Faith. This track is probably the most reminiscent of the best and the most schizophrenic qualities of her debut.

Save for the rare moments when Faith pushes the scope of her vocals to a place that is overwrought and over-sung, “Fall to Grace” is refreshingly natural and genuine. There’s no need to suspend disbelief when listening to the album, because there’s nothing that is difficult to understand amid the collection of heartbreaks and triumphs that comprise the record.

This leaves the album sounding anonymous enough so as to be relatable, but not so much so that it loses its vibrancy. That alone makes the album worth the listen.

Reach the reporter at svhabib@asu.edu.