Aaradhna: Brown Girl (Universal)

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Drunken Heart, Smokey Mind
Aaradhna: Brown Girl (Universal)

After her excellent if overlong Treble and Reverb of four years ago (which picked up a shedload of awards and acclaim), expectation has been high for this new one. The title track first single – with its reference to the Jamaican children's song Brown Girl in the Ring made famous by Boney M – was a beautifully produced, clever piece of self-referencing soul and a slow burner about the racism she has faced.

And her open letter to fans about the album reenforced that this was going to be serious stuff about a broken relationship and the hardships of life.

Given that build-up and the high expectations (along with a loyal fan base) it was hardly surprising that this debuted at number one on the charts last week.

Unfortunately in too many places her need to deliver a message has overwhelmed her gift for writing a memorable song, as she did often for Treble and Reverb.

In part the album isn't helped by its running order: After the lead-off mid-tempo Brown Girl there is the relentlessly slow if quite excellent five-minute Devil's Living in My Shadow which makes for a ponderous start before the smart Pacific-flavoured pop of the escapist hedonism on Drunken Heart, Smokey Mind kicks in.

But thereafter the momentum dips and soars as the many yearning and confessional songs build up, and while there have great albums prompted by a relationship break-up, over the full time this isn't one of them. Aaradhna – who still has a gift with an amalgam of sultry blues, American soul and r'n'b – often doesn't take you much further than the emotions which have been consuming her.

That said, there are some wonderful songs and deliveries here which deserve chivvying out: Both the understated if somewhat slight ballad Forever Love and effortlessly delivered Talk Sweet To Me succeed because they don't strain for effect; I'm the One For You effects that clever contrast of upbeat Pacific-styled music with aching lyrics; and despite the percussive Welcome to the Jungle petering out than finding its ending (a common failing here) it is an astute piece of work and confirms how smart the arrangements are throughout these 11 songs.

Where Treble and Reverb had frequent sparks of life and a sassy swagger alongside the messages, this time out Aaradhna – who has spoken of this as being about her growth from girl to woman – errs towards the melancholy and its uplifting moments are few and far between.

There is no denying her talent as a singer and writer, but too often this doesn't tap deeply enough into both.

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