Album Review :
Brooke Fraser - Flags

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Artist: Brooke Fraser
Title: Flags
Label: Sony Music Entertainment
Release Date: 10/12/2010
Reviewer: Joshua Hedlund

Tracklisting:

  1. Something In The Water
  2. Betty
  3. Orphans, Kingdoms
  4. Who Are We Fooling?
  5. Ice On Her Lashes
  6. Coachella
  7. Jack Kerouac
  8. Sailboats
  9. Crows + Locusts
  10. Here’s To You
  11. Flags

Brooke Fraser is mostly known for her soothing contributions to the Hillsong United worship repertoire, but she paints her solo work in decidedly different colors. Her albums and singles regularly top the mainstream charts in her homeland of New Zealand, and her exposure in the United States has been slowly increasing. Her third release, Flags, is a full-fledged indie pop album in the vein of A Fine Frenzy or Feist with a dash of Imogen Heap.

From the opening vocal “doot doo, doot doo doo” of the first track, and the whistles and handclaps and tambourines that ensue, there’s no doubt about the sound Fraser is going for, and for the most part she pulls it off well. There’s nothing too spiritual about lines like “There’s something in the water that makes me love you like I do” (ascribing love to random circumstances?), and it’s strange to hear this from the same woman who pens beautiful worship calls like “None But Jesus.” At the same time there’s nothing wrong with it, and if you stop trying to expect it to be a worship song, it’s simply a bouncy love song dripping with catchiness.

The rest of the album unfolds in a similar poppy manner – sometimes faster, sometimes slower. Many songs tell stories or offer encouragement to a variety of characters. The song about “Betty” says, “You got your secrets / You’ve got your regrets / Darling, we all do.” The vocalist from Aqualung joins her on “Who Are We Fooling,” a mournful ballad which details a painfully struggling relationship but hints at a commitment to see it through: This beautiful tangle that’s bruising us blue / Is the beautiful knot that we just can’t undo… Real love is hard love.

And if you require more vertical lyrics, they’re here too – and they’re not just trite nods to Jesus, either. “Crows + Locusts” depicts our spiritual needs through a brutal metaphor of a bleak and plagued harvest. The title track references both Ecclesiastes and the Beatitudes in a sweeping saga that can’t explain worldly injustices but soars on promised hope: “You who mourn will be comforted… I don’t know why the little ones thirst / But I know the last shall be first

The excellent lyrics are delivered in Fraser’s simple, soothing, strong vocals. Sometimes she almost seems to mold the shape of her mouth to emphasize phrases in certain ways (or maybe it’s just the accent!). The surrounding music is everything you’d expect from a an indie pop album. She calls on driving percussion, vocal choruses, horns, strings, or whatever else is necessary to accompany the guitar or piano that guides each song, and it’s strongly executed with solid production. My first impression was that I would be bored after the opening super-catchy single that might quickly wear out, but I found the songs pleasantly growing on me (I’ve had similar experiences with A Fine Frenzy albums), and I understand why some thought of it as one of the strongest releases of 2010.

Overall: If bouncy, female indie pop isn’t your thing, Flags might not be for you. But if you like catchy songs with deep, clever songwriting (almost every song is worth quoting), and assorted percussive and orchestral highlights, then I definitely recommend giving Brooke Fraser a listen. Sometimes it’s the growing familiarity of a musical phrase, sometimes it’s a lyrical line that suddenly stands out in a new way – but every time through I like it more.

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