Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Back to the 80's - and this time you'll want to stay

The early half of the 2010's has seen a resurgence in retro nostalgia spanning all forms of entertainment.  From movie reboots right on down to music that is unabashedly "of" another time and place.  Rare is the disc that manages to be in 2 places at once - that seems pulled out of the past, yet still chasing the pop sound of the current day.  It also doesn't hurt if it's a hell of a lot of fun.

Jessica Anne Newham, better known by her stage name Betty Who, has hit that sweet spot nicely with her full length debut for RCA "Take me when you go."  Opener "Just Like Me" may be one of the most up-beat sounding heartbreak anthems ever recorded - and not just because of the peppy beats supporting the words.  Giving a little lift, knowing there are other people in the same boat - this itself is a simple, comforting concept.  Funny that simple, comforting concepts can still make for great pop songs, and they certainly do here.  Moving onward from there, as much as Lorde's "Royals" was an amusing middle finger to living the lifestyle of the rich and famous, "High Society" is a cheeky rebuttal to that track.  It's all living the high life and not taking things too seriously, or drowning too far into the excesses of the high life (as, for instance, many a tune by Kesha is prone to doing.)  "Somebody Loves You," her first single release, is re-included here, and it makes for a nice centerpiece of 80's fun.  Carefree, unabashed good feeling - and a healthy dose of instrumentation that is itself just oozing 80's, right down to the electric tom toms skittering around between verses.

"Better" comes across like that strange marriage of a love-and-devotion anthem that can't quite decide what it wants to be.  Does it want to be one of those, while strong and confident, or does it want to be the cheese-drenched schmaltz of "Take my breath away" from Top Gun?  Not a match that would seem to work, but somewhere between those 2 extremes, Newham finds the right blend of each to end up with a song more truly her own.

The album can seem to blend together at times, weaving deftly from defiantly upbeat heartbreak anthems to swooning love-ballads fizzed up into 80's-meets-latter-day-EDM bliss.  It's the sort of thing that could see her stuck in a rut on album number 2, but only if she lets that happen.  And generally, the good charisma and effortlessly catchy music behind each track manages to make the listener forget the sameness.  She even ends with an appropriately subdued and plaintive piece in "California Rain" - allowing a nice comedown from the overflowing energy present on the previous 12 tracks.

Another strong spot for this disc is that Newham has co-writing credits on every track.  In a day and age where even artists who once wrote their own music are turning to pop hit masters to pen their songs (Maroon 5, anyone?) it is refreshing to see someone able to create a compelling piece of work with their own talents.  "Take me when you go" is a promising start, and while the sweet spot of 80's-meets-today may not be something she can always pull off this well on future releases, there is enough here to whet the appetite for the next time out, and then some.

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