#11. Corinne Bailey Rae – The Sea
Corinne Bailey Rae made a giant leap with her second album. Unfortunately, tragic circumstances led to it. But The Sea ended up one of the most soulful and emotional records of 2010.
After the quiet success of her first album, Rae’s husband died of an accidental drug overdose. When she returned to record The Sea, she clearly channeled her feelings into her songs. Don’t get me wrong–The Sea is not a downer of an album. It reflects on love and loss in an emotional way, but never reaches the level of Harrowing. “It’s hard to recall the taste of summer / when everywhere around, the chill of winter,” she sings on “Are You Here,” probably the most nakedly emotional song on the album. In “Paris Nights/New York Mornings,” she remembers “love filled nights,” but with the caveat that they are running out of time. And while “the sea breaks everything,” she also realizes that it “cleans everything.” Wiki says she wrote about half the songs after her husband’s death, and I can’t speculate which ones were or weren’t, but all the songs tie in: she looks at love, the good and the bad, the memories, the struggles.
Musically, though, is where The Sea is the most impressive. Rae’s self-titled first album was more or less pop music. Except for some touches, the music does not sound organic — drums are created, vocals and lyrics clear and romantic, rhythms perfect and predictable, her voice warm and inviting. I say this not to demean it, I enjoy it, but to contrast with The Sea, which, upon listening close, is absolutely nothing like it.
First, she recorded The Sea with a band. The energy that comes from a band performing is perfect for her voice, and they combine to create atmosphere and a bit more drama. She shows more skill in singing, as well. Instead of pop clarity, she purrs more, like a real soul singer should. Soul music is about passion and feelings, and she finds that, ironically, by pulling her voice back. You don’t have to go big to get there. Her natural voice is big anyway, so to keep things slightly mysterious does nothing but enhance the emotion and ambience.
As I have mentioned a couple of times on this countdown (and will a couple more, I’m sure), I went to Coachella this year. Rae was one of the acts, which was a great and welcome surprise. I was stoked, and made sure I didn’t miss her. She did not disappoint, and I even stood near her in the crowd later as we watched Sly Stone have a crazy meltdown. If people skipped her, wrote her off as one of the “pop” acts Coachella sometimes adds, they really missed out.
They also would be missing out on The Sea, if they wrote her off after her debut.