Mattiel has got a knack for a classic melody.
After hearing previous singles like ‘Count Your Blessings’ with it’s remarkably British sounding Dusty Springfield, blue-eyed soul vibe, you’d be forgiven for thinking she was from swinging sixties London and this was some long lost vinyl recently discovered.
In reality, she’s from Atlanta, and so finds herself in the curious position of showing her stylistic influences that have now crossed ‘the pond’ three times. From the original blues artists and early rock’n’roll which influenced the likes of the Rolling Stones and others, who in turn exported their music back to the States, to Mattiel 60 years later, the very same core of the music persists throughout. And one last time into my ears, back over the Atlantic.
But does her new album reveal more depth than this or is she, like the ill-fated Duffy who tried a similar thing back in 2008, a one trick pony?
Satis Factory opens with two back to back twelve bar blues tracks which is a tricky thing to get away with these days – I mean is anyone even listening to Jack White do it anymore? Metronomy are just about managing it with ‘Salted Caramel Ice Cream’ but their sound is not really comparable here. Anyway it’s not the most promising of beginnings although it does make me want to pick up a guitar and jam along.
Having mentioned Jack White, ‘Food For Thought’ is a Raconteurs style fable, a tongue-in-cheek warning to those thinking of straying from the traditional Southern life revolving around family and the Church. This picks up on a theme that has run through American music for decades, from Hank Williams to Kings of Leon, particularly in the South. ‘Berlin Weekend’ takes a different look at the same problem. In the song she’s torn between the fun and joy of time away, forgetting about life, only to return and invest in a house and “white picket fence”, that inescapably enduring symbol of domestic conservatism.
The album really gets going with the playful and foot stomping ‘Je Ne Me Connais Pas’. There’s word play in the fashion of the album’s title coupled with a shout along chorus, in French. If you thought everything with a French chorus was pretentious, think again. ‘Heck Fire’ is similarly stomping and strutting and is a much more successful use of the twelve bar blues structure than the first two tracks.
Like ‘Count Your Blessings’, ‘Keep the Change’ is another pure classic pop moment with do do dodododo glockenspiel riffing you will be humming for days. As jolly as it sounds, under the surface she’s not happy and the repeated ‘I’ve wasted all my time’ is frustration at getting into a situation “that started as a daydream, but I’m not dreaming anymore”.
The album has the capacity to surprise.
Just when you think you’ve got Mattiel’s influences nailed, she’ll take you on a trip to New York to hang out with Andy Warhol and Lou Reed (‘Millionaire’) and then fast forward 30 years to 1990s Manchester (‘Populonia’).
The only downside is after twelve tracks of Mattiel in a row, her lack of vocal variety, dynamics, tone and range does begin to grate a little.
But this is easily forgiven on an enjoyable album, sampling some of the best British and US sounds from almost the whole history of modern popular music. An album that begins by luring you into thinking very narrowly soon expands into something a whole lot more. And this goes for the lyrics as well as the music; perhaps even more so than the music. She’s definitely not a one-trick pony, and I feel mean for having even considered it.
Words by James Spearing.
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