Album Review: Paloma Faith: The Architect

By Niy Birden

RCA – Epic

Let it be known: Paloma Faith is ready to make her mark as an R&B popstar. Maybe not quite like Bruno Mars aesthetically, but with the same musical foundation and performance attitude.

And this time, it is imperative for our best interests that we pay complete attention.

With 4 albums in the game and more than 20 years as a performer, it is really quite a surprise that she hasn’t gotten up to the ranks such as her other fellow female British performers, like Adele and other singer songwriters. Even though her sound and imagery were quite literally similar to a circus act (which makes sense considering that she was a magician’s assistant), she had the full package: chops, dance skills, and the looks. But somehow, she was heavily overlooked.

Not anymore.

Debuting at number one on the UK Albums Chart and selling over 40,000 copies, this is her first UK charting album.

The Architect, Paloma’s newest album, is a statement that is finding a unique spot amongst the 2017 album releases in the mainstream R&B and pop world.

It is a joyful surprise in many ways. With the album title being released in 2016 after a statement about her hiatus following her childbirth, many people did not expect to hear from our friendly singer from across the pond for quite some time.

And as usual, we were foolish to take it so seriously. This isn’t because Paloma isn’t true to her word, but rather because her words can have endless meanings as an artist.

A great example would be in her debut album, with the hit “Stone Cold Sober”, which narrates her wild-child antics, all while reminding her audience that she is not under the influence at all. It didn’t have nearly the same musical effect of Amy Winehouse’s, which is why it was the perfect antithesis of “Rehab”.

Another great example of that would be not too long ago in 2017 when she revealed that she would be raising her child as gender neutral, a term that has recently hit the social activism discussions online recently.

While she did have mixed reviews about the statement, the main question on everyone’s mind was “Yes, but where is the album”?

And now, here it is.

At 19 tracks long, this is Paloma’s longest solo musical project ever. Her last being 15 (“A Perfect Contradiction”), before that 13 (“Fall to Grace”) , and before that one, 10 for her debut (“Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?”). We could very well say that this is her epic.

The very first surprising moments of the album come in the very beginning, with a spoken word by prolific acting veteran, Samuel L. Jackson:

“There is a beauty in the distant sound of a weeping man. There’s wonder in your child’s eyes, or maybe your future child’s eyes. And many things you may remember that you had, that you lost, that you let slip through your fingers, so cherish them all

You are the poor, the refugee, the bloody victim. You are the power, the winner and the fighter. Breathe in, you’re lucky to

Be the beauty, the memory, the past, the past, the present and the future, be infinite. Do something, say something, believe in something, but most of all, know you can change things. Yes, you. What are you waiting for? Do not be fearful of evolution, the time is now!”

Surprisingly though, Paloma had directed a very annoyed Samuel for this monologue.

With a muffled background of brass instruments, synths, harps and even crowds of children, the opening is a brave and quite creative one for a pop and R&B album. It actually sounds quite like an intro to a motion-picture sci-fi.
And with the videos released so far, it makes perfect sense. This, as an album is Paloma’s directorial debut. Before, she was just the leading starlet, with what many of her critics described as a “gimmick”.

But if anyone is a true critic and admirer of Paloma, they would understand that she has always been this versatile in design.

The Architect, a fitting description of Paloma as a performer, as an opening song is a strong reminder of why Paloma could easily be a contender for one of the best singer songwriters and performers our age has seen.

Paloma sounds as confident as ever in the opening track. Singing in her trademark deep drawl for the opening lines, she vocalizes over the rhythmic drums and steadily leads up to the belted line “I will forgive you, but I won’t forget”, which comes with harmonizing background vocals and as usual, a roaring string section. The music is so dynamic and melodies so genuine that it makes you believe that the entire thing is live and not digital at all. That’s quite a musical idea in 2017.

But what’s interesting is that Paloma seems to be sticking with her normal damsel-in-distress, but still very powerful narrative of a scorned woman being mistreated. If this is the narrative of an architect, it makes one wonder about what Paloma is metaphorically building, or creating.

Nonetheless, this will definitely be a song popularized in today’s televised talent competitions, and would easily be a crowd-pleaser at an awards show.

With “Guilty”, she also opens up with her deep voice, keeping the musical theme in mind and not straying too far where it is confusing but still a good song for a follow-up track. As a music video, “Guilty” was the continuation of her Crybaby music video. The fact that it actually comes right before Crybaby in the album gives an insight into more of the complexities of crafting projects together for music, and what specifically she was going for as a storyteller.

With the jazzy but sultry sound, it would fit very well in a James Bond or other spy film. It would be even better if it were a film with a female playing Bond.

“Crybaby” is unashamedly a feel-good record, even though its visual and musical messaging are purposefully a commentary on modern society’s ideologies regarding “masculinity” and its harsh restrictions. It is a great contradiction. The idea of a disco-touching record with visuals of punishing emotions to the extreme is a classic Paloma Faith type of concept. While it may have been better placed somewhere more towards the middle of the album, it is certainly a song one can easily pass up without bobbing their heads or tapping their feet for a minute.

A surprising addition to the album, “I’ll Be Gentle”, comes in next featuring John Legend. It actually sounds more like a John Legend song than as a collaboration with Paloma. But lyrically, it is paired very well next to Crybaby. John’s voice sounds a bit more optimistic than needed. Perhaps his recent sting of hits from his last album influenced the collaboration?

Upon multiple listens however, the music doesn’t necessarily follow up after a banger like Crybaby. It would be better-fitted at the end of the album, given its catchy and uplifting melody.

“Politics of Hope” is another spoken interlude, but this time by Owen Jones:

The rights and freedoms that we have today were won by your mothers, your fathers, your grandmothers, your grandfathers, your ancestors before them

“We stand on the shoulders of giants and we owe it to our ancestors. Not just to defend the rights and freedoms that they fought for at such cost and at such sacrifice, that continue their struggle that a different sort of society, not a society run in the interests of a tiny elite, but a society run in the interests of the majority
Those who preach the politics of despair, they want us to believe that all injustice is like the weather. That you can complain about the raining, but there’s nothing you can do about it. But the politics of hope tells us something else.”

But just wait a moment, you would think that the following song would be a moody or similarly vibe-ish song right?

Once again, you are a fool for assuming the norm from Paloma.

“Kings and Queens” is almost a completely new venture for Paloma Faith. Sounding like a single for a newer, younger singer such as Alessia Cara or Ella Eyre, the song is VERY poppy. Almost annoyingly so? But in a way that the melody is a bit too-repetitive. It could very well be the theme song for a daytime television show.

“Surrender” starts with a rolling piano riff, ad-libbing echoing vocals, and a thumping beat. Starting off similar to how “The Architect” opens up, this seems more in-tune with the theme of the album, or what the listener would assume the theme is. It almost seems as if the protagonist of this story is confused as whether she wants to be a revolutionary or just a free lover. This makes for a damn good album concept.

An immediate comparison would be of Janelle Monae’s series of Cyndi Mayweather musical chronicles, The Arch Android. While Janelle definitely had more of a hold on the theme, there was a good mix of love songs and resistance narrative.

“Warrior”, “’Til I’m Done” and “Lost and Lonely” then follow for the continuation of the album in very classic Paloma Faith styles, and then interestingly, “Still Around” comes in, with a sound that has interpolations of trap or modern R&B production, sounding like something recorded by maybe Tamar Braxton, or Jennifer Hudson.

“Pawns” comes in next, as a spoken interlude between three artists, Baby, Nym and Janelle (not Monae). In a discussion about voting, the speech once again makes the listener wonder just how the direction of this album came about.

However, all is immediately forgiven with the R&B and Hip Hop track “WW3”. It’s production is so top-notch British R&B that it sounds straight out of the youth scene in London. It could easily have been produced by various producers, starting anywhere from D.J. Premiere, to Tricky, and even Mark Ronson. The accompanying brass and sultry Lana Del Rey-like sample of the female-spoken line “In World War 3” gives Paloma a new sound and overall aesthetic.

She thankfully continues this aesthetic with the trip hop and pop track, “Love Me As I Am”. The melody isn’t really anything special, in fact it sounds like a continuation of Guilty. Lyrically, it returns to the questionable theme of being accepted by a lover. However, with the new percussion, it easily masquerades within the album.

After “Power To The Peaceful”, “Tonight’s Not The Only Night” and “My Body”, it is easy to confuse this album to being more of a female-empowerment epic, especially with the lyrics of My Body being “My body-it may not work for you, but it works for me”. This works exceptionally well, because female empowerment goes in conduction with the social activism and architect personality. But is that what it was meant for?

“Price of Fame” finally ends off the album as an R&B track, with similar musical elements of WW3. While the song is one that many would agree with, it ends off quite disappointingly, especially when re-visited after multiple listens.

So with all its contradictions and inconsistencies, why could this album be the one that skyrockets Paloma?

Simply put, it has become an undeniably attractive aesthetic.

In addition to that, with her debuting at number one on the UK chart, and with the heavy success of her last album, by now it is safe to say that Team Paloma is capitalizing off of power ballads and pop-filled dystopian future stories.

This is specifically something that is growing larger and larger in popularity for America, which Paloma hasn’t always had the greatest track record with.

While her previous albums were very female-empowering and exciting, they were still a bit too weird. People were just getting to understand how contradiction in female performers worked.

But with the effects of social media and the influence of feminism seen in power go-getters like Cardi B, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, and others, it is now becoming more acceptable for female popstars to be socially conscious while still keeping their musical narrative about relationships, sex and overall self-esteem.

Paloma Faith has already shown her worth to the Brits. Now it is time for America to dance in her Crybaby glory.

And hopefully this time, we’ll catch up.