Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate unknown, is the 2003 debut album Introduction by BBC Fame Academy winner Alex Parks. Is it any good or does this album get off on the wrong foot? Read on…
This 13 track album opens with the piano chords of lead single Maybe That’s What It Takes, a somewhat smugly titled song with a nod to her Fame Academy series 2 win (Series 1 gave us David Sneddon). ‘Looking back, how did i get here?‘ are her first words (and she’s a co-writer on this) – sounding almost dumb-founded at having won, but also sounding somewhat brown-nosing to the BBC (an approach adopted by every X Factor winner single since). Alex’s vocals are fragile yet strong, and this sits perfectly as a shuffling beat is joined by bass and some electric guitars on leashes. Vocally she sounds a bit Kelly Clarkson and Pink, getting plenty of opportunities to belt out the lyrics. The single reached #3, not least because of heavy play on the BBC, including Children In Need.
This is followed by second and final single, Cry. Again, the piano and percussive electronic beats lead us into this gentle song. It’s pretty downbeat as you’d probably expect, complete with some wonderful strings, until the chorus, where electric guitars kick in and Alex gets the chance to show off a vocal range that’s not unlike that of Melanie C. The track gave her a #13 UK hit single.
A rattle of snares signal a harder rockier sound in Dirty Pretty Words. The tempo is up and this song gets to show Alex’s harder rock vocals – and these sit perfectly alongside the snarling guitars, and the menacing melody that occasionally sounds like it’s strayed from Radiohead’s Pablo Honey album.
Next up, is the first of the album’s 6 cover versions – yes, SIX. And, why not go for the jugular of all covers – Imagine – a cover of the classic 1971 John Lennon song. Instead of the familiar piano intro, we have acoustic heaven over a breathy spacial backing synthscape. This approach does at least keep it away from being a straight copy. It’s warm with its bubbling synths and echoey vocals, but it feels like a marketing department’s choice of lure tracks.
Not Your Average Kind Of Girl is up next – another one of Alex’s co-written songs. There’s some really nice guitars in this song over the plodding echoey beat. It’s pretty mellow, and Alex takes a softer, breathy approach to the vocals. There’s some nice vocal harmonies with co-writer, and 3rd place Fame Academy contestant, Carolynne Good.
The second cover follows this – a cover of the Tears For Fears / Gary Jules hits Mad World. This version really works with its sad string section, minimalist beats, and Alex’s fragile vocals over a simple piano sequence. With this, the song is somewhat close to the Gary Jules version from the same year as Alex’s album, rather than Tears For Fears’ 1983 synth pop original. It gently builds up, and far out shines her version of Imagine.
Sad strings sounding like a 50’s film intro open Alex’s version of the R.E.M song Everybody Hurts. These strings step aside briefly for a piano to take the lead before returning alongside the piano for the chorus. Alex’s vocals here are soft, utterly sad, as some harrowed violins sweep downwards through the second verse, and the strings and piano duets are really beautiful. This is a very sad version.
Alex tackles the Christina Aguilera hit Beautiful next – a song that became the b-side to the debut single. Again, piano and sad strings return, but this song feels a bit unnecessary due to the recency (2002) and brilliance of Christina’s own version, leaving this feeling like a good karaoke version. There’s nothing wrong with Alex’s version, it simply feels extraneous to the original.
The rockier sound returns for Stones & Feathers, sounding slightly like something you’d find on the Ocean Colour Scene album Moseley Shoals. These rockier tracks really help Alex find some big vocal opportunities, and she really excels in these moments. Here though, she’s joined by a male choir sound, and for a moment I imagined a mash up between this and Coolio’s Gangstar’s Paradise hit (it’s only a matter of time).
The Eurythmics get a going over now, with a cover of their 1983 hit – Here Comes The Rain Again. The tempo picks up, and by the time we get to the chorus, the electric guitars race off as Alex makes light work of the vocals. The verses sound wonderfully 80’s pop-rock (imagine a slightly softer Cher here). Singer Luciana is wasted on backing vocals here, but it’s nice to see her on the sleeve notes.
As the popularity of Coldplay soared, it’s no surprise to find a cover of Yellow up next. Whilst Alex’s vocals are softer than Chris’, musically this doesn’t really feel any different from their original. At times, this sounds exactly how I’d imagine Dolores O’Riordan (The Cranberries) would sound if she sang the song with Coldplay.
Penultimate song Wandering Soul is up next, and this one has a wave of growling guitars and heavier rock beats. Alex’s vocals shine effortlessly here as she reaches far and wide with her range. A bubbling William Orbit-esque synth bubbles in the background in-between these hard rock moment. This is really quite catchy and I found myself top-tapping.
The album closes with Over Conscious, which comes slinking in with tender vocals over a gentle shuffling beat. Guitars gently strum us through the verses and into the chorus, giving it a brooding feeling as it steadily builds. It’s almost Portishead-ish in its mood.
Over all, the padding of this album by faithful cover versions signalled the start of how TV talent shows were heading: put a load of songs people already know on the album, as that alone will give a wide mass audience who buy the album by the shed-load.
Having said that, she does manage to put in an admirable performance in those songs, and I wonder how much she enjoyed having those songs on her album?
What’s different here, of course, is that Alex is a great co-writer – seemingly writing from the heart, and is evident here that she has a strong and able voice. Hopefully, she’ll return to the charts one day.
- POP RESCUE 2016 RATING: 4 / 5
- 2003 UK CHART PEAK: #5, certified 2x Platinum.
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.19 from MusicMagpie.