Review: “Play To Win” by Gabrielle (CD, 2004)


Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate unknown, is the 2004 4th studio album ‘Play To Win’ by British singer Gabrielle. Does this album sound like a winner, or should it miss a turn? Read on…

Gabrielle's 2004 album 'Play To Win'
Gabrielle’s 2004 album ‘Play To Win’

The album opens with the second and final single Ten Years Time. Some lovely acoustic guitar and piano lead us straight into Gabrielle’s rich and luxurious vocals. This is Gabrielle’s lowest charting single to date – stalling at #43 in the UK chart. Lyrically, it feels like Gabrielle is singing a boring set of talk notes from the Human Resources team.

This is followed by Sometimes which opens with some distinct country music guitars, although there’s little else here to suggest that genre. It’s a nice enough song, but not particularly remarkable. The track found its way onto the film Love, Actually.

Lead single Stay The Same is up next. Again acoustic guitar leads us in, and finds Gabrielle at a lower register, which feels a bit limiting for her. She breaks free for the chorus though, allowing the vocals to pick up a bit. There are some musical nods in here that remind me of hit Rise, but otherwise it’s a bit of a deflated downbeat album so far. This single reached #20 in the UK singles chart.

You Used To Love Me follows this, and remains within the country music and downbeat style. Sadly, we’ve wasted Gabrielle so far, and this track contributes to that. By the time the song has finished, I’ve almost forgotten it.

Things seem to take a more upbeat turn with the title track Play To Win. It’s a catchier and more positive song, and it’s lifted a little by the use of harmonica alongside the guitars and piano. It’s the highlight of the album so far.

Up next is No Big Deal, which has some nice drifting guitars in here, giving Gabrielle something to duel against. Occasionally she gets a chance to push that vocal power, but I’m left feeling short-changed.

Latchkey Kid is next, opening with some nice soft percussion, as Gabrielle softly tells us a story about a ‘latchkey kid’ and the pressures on A&E departments. This is quite a nice gentle foot-tapper of a track, and feels almost like the softer Gabrielle we’re familiar with.

Track Fallen Angel gives Gabrielle another nice song, with guitars, some quietly brooding strings from the London Session Orchestra. Again, Gabrielle gets to show off her vocal range, but it still feels like she’s being reigned in.

Give And Take gives Gabrielle a few places to push her vocal range and power, but the song is mostly uninspiring mid-pop rock.

There’s some lovely piano and strings leading us into next track War Of Two Minds, and we’re given some rich vocals from Gabrielle set against the piano and a light rimshot beat. The London Session Orchestra’s strings sweep around as the vocals build up in this ballad. It’s a really nice delicate track.

Picking Up The Pieces feels far more upbeat than anything we’ve heard so far. It’s almost something you’d expect from the RnB success that was her Rise album. This is by far the strongest track here, and why it wasn’t the single, I guess we’ll never know.

The album closes with Tumbling Down, which returns us to the acoustic guitars that opened the album. Gabrielle’s tender but richly warm vocals sit perfectly on top of the simple strumming. She’s joined by a drum-rolling snare, but the pace of lyrics and part of the melody makes her sound somewhat like Des’ree singing her hurried hit Life. I sat waiting for Gabrielle to mention her toast.

After a few moments of silence, there’s a hidden track Letting Go, which gives Gabrielle a lovely beat again, and this feels like it’s a return to form. Why it’s hidden, when considering the sleepiness of the rest of this album, it deserved to be a single alongside Picking Up The Pieces. Let go of this album, Gabrielle, and come back to where you belong.

Gabrielle’s lead single ‘Stay The Same’

Verdict

Over all this album is probably the most miserable Gabrielle album, and the biggest gross mis-use of Gabrielle’s fantastic vocals to date. The album is downbeat, sleepy, and bland with only a few highlight tracks towards the end of the album.

Considering pop royalty Biff Stannard and Julian Gallagher are in on this album, it’s surprising that it’s turned out so mediocre.

Sorry Gabrielle, but I wanted this album to be more…

Rated 2 stars - A tough listen!
  • POP RESCUE 2020 RATING: 2 / 5
  • 2004 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #10, certified Gold by the BPI.
  • POP RESCUE COST: £1.49 from a British Heart Foundation store.

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