Paloma Faith – The Architect
- David Pollock
- 17 November 2017
Emotional pop with an interesting political edge
'I can't apologise for being who I am … I need you to see this my way,' hollers Paloma Faith in imploring, torch singer fashion on this album's closing track 'Love Me As I Am', an affirmative vocal performance worthy of any X-Factor final. On the most superficial level, it's a call for acceptance from a lover with whom Faith's in-song character is having compatibility problems; an orchestrally dramatic and somewhat unsubtle 'Stand By Me' for the 21st century.
Yet it's also possible to read her words from a different perspective, to imagine that Faith is speaking directly to her fanbase after her decision to forego the anodyne, superficial theatrics of the mainstream music industry in favour of revealing more of her inner self – her inner political self, to be precise. Since the release of her third album A Perfect Contradiction in 2014, Faith has taken to touring with political commentator and friend Owen Jones in support, and she's spoken of her own lifelong left politics and her disdain for the current government in interviews.
All of which is hardly The Radicalisation of Paloma Faith, but these are brave positions for a commercial pop artist to hold in 2017, when the expectation is that they should present as blank a canvas as possible, for fear of offending any potential consumers. Yet Faith has brought her political emergence to The Architect, and with it Owen Jones – his is one of a number of spoken word interludes here, with 'Politics of Hope' a tinnily-recorded plea to remember the postwar spirit of our forebears and sounding as though it were recorded next up on the same mic as Churchill's Dunkirk speech.
In fact, these spoken word pieces are the most interesting features of this new album, because they're the least expected. Samuel L Jackson's gravelly baritone opens the record on 'Evolution', triumphantly declaring that 'you are the poor, the refugee, the bloodied victim … do something, say something, believe in something / but most of all, know that you can change things'. Later, 'Pawns' very relevantly features Faith's fellow singers Baby N'Sola, Janelle Martin and Naomi Miller discussing their own roles in the pop industry.
It's hard to know whether the freighting of these messages within what's otherwise an entirely mainstream contemporary pop record is a triumph, or whether the fact that Faith hasn't managed to bring such sentiments more explicitly into her music counts as a defeat. Yet the songs are pretty enough, and sound as though they might fill concert halls to hair-tingling effect. 'Guilty', in particular, is a power-waltz to a hip-hop beat which channels the spirit of Amy Winehouse and the experience of being a nasty woman; the devotional 'I'll Be Gentle' is an anthemic duet with the very complementary voice of John Legend; and 'Warrior', co-written by Sia, is a powerful admission of vulnerability which declares, 'I am a wounded warrior / now that the enemy's closing in'.
It's a record which none of Faith's long-time fans will be unhappy with, from the air-punching, disco-tinged 'Til I'm Done' and its laying down of another's emotional load, to the lithe contemporary soul of 'Lost and Lonely' and 'WW3', each of which deal with being emotionally adrift in different ways. Yet The Architect is also an album that those who admire her talent, if not the ins and outs of her back catalogue, might have hoped would advance her closer towards the iconic status of which she may yet be capable.