The shadow of Amy Winehouse, like her catalogue of scandals, is very long. Although it’s evident that the only thing that the London singer has invented is her piñata hairdo, her recovery (and slight updating) of more retro soul-pop has allowed other female singers with a 60s sound to get into show business without being limited to performing on Singstar or at cousin Jane’s birthday party. And now there are several young women being talked about musically who are getting to experience their fifteen minutes of fame squeezing all that they can out of a musical trend that, so far, only sounds legitimate and authentic coming from Winehouse, Adele Adkins , and the simple (but delicious) Duffy. Everything else moving around down there below these three queens seems to float in a sea of mediocrity that always leads us to say the same thing: “Well, pffffff, it’s not bad. Comme si comme ça”.
The very young Roxanne Tataei is the latest to join this ship of sepia-tinted melodies, one more in the dressing room of the Marx Sisters; however, she comes with very respectable credentials that at first invite you to believe in miracles. In fact, this London beauty with blood that is half Jamaican and half Iranian has been blessed by heavyweights like Mark Ronson and Paul Weller, and has been labelled the next big thing by the always-incendiary British musical press. The buzz is as deafening as South African vuvuzelas, but the noise surpasses the expectations. It’s not that the album doesn’t have undeniable, well-made hits. In fact the most northern soul moments –most Winehouse moments, I mean– are without a doubt the melodic peaks of this irregular journey. “No Going Back” stinks of charts, it has nerve, good vocal development, a gospel chorus, and happiness every minute: a perfect cut to play in your car on your way to the beach to girl / boy-spot.
There are also passages that stand out for their black music sound, with glimmers of Lauryn Hill –the presence of Commissioner Gordon in the production credits surely has a lot to do with it. Definitively, “Page Unfolds” or “Breakfast in Bed” owe a great deal to the ex-Fugee, both musically and in vocal inflections. “Do As I Say” is a delicious soul ballad to listen to this summer on holiday, just before your afternoon nap; on the other end of the emotional spectrum, we find “I Don’t Believe”, a ragingly optimistic song that recovers the Motown fervour and situates itself halfway between the excellence of Supremes and the ultra-commercial catch of Alesha Dixon. And the peak of the most profitable part of the LP, “My Baby Left Me”. The ingenuous melody of the chorus, with some smiling chords and a silly face, consumes up the entire discography of The Cardigans, and it does so takes a page from the Duffy style book, to make the best three minutes on the album.
The problem is when Rox tries to get transcendental and crepuscular. This is when you find yourself faced with defective acoustic ballads like “Heart Ran Dry” –they can cut off my balls if it doesn’t sound like Extreme at their weepiest– or “Oh My” –if it were on a Céline Dion album it wouldn’t sound out of place– or “Sad Eyes” –which sounds like a teenage love song, by God! It’s a pity that Rox has sunk her foot into these cheap emotional swamps, and has decided that reggae is also cool (watch out for “Rocksteady”, a horror full of Jamaican stereotypes that even makes you feel embarrassed for her). At this point, it’s hard to say whether the album is acceptable or getting on for bad: it’s a very close call. As I see it, with Amy Winehouse missing in action and Duffy missing in the studio, “Memoirs” is like those magazines that we find in the doctor’s waiting room: you flip through them, you look at the pictures, you pass the time, but you don’t read a single article.