Janet Devlin – Confessional
Pop | Folk
It’s been nearly a decade since Northern Irish singer Janet Devlin’s audition on the X Factor, and about six years since her last album Running With Scissors. Having followed her career from the very beginning, that realisation suddenly makes me feel incredibly old, as both milestones seem like forever ago. For Janet herself however I imagine it must feel very different. The ups and downs of life in the spotlight and all the hurdles and expectations that come with it, alongside suffering in silence with addiction, self-image and her general mental health, must have made the last ten years rush by like a whirlwind. One tempest after another without a chance to stand on solid ground and reflect on it all. That moment of reflection has finally come however with her incredibly candid new concept album Confessional.
Right off the bat the record shows her growth not just as a person, but as an artist. While her last record was a simple yet charming bouncy folk pop affair, Confessional sees her branching out into new styles and really finding her feet in the process. Tracks like ‘So Cold’ and ‘Better Now’ showcase elegant and sombre piano balladry. She explores the more grand and bombastic with ‘Saint of the Sinners’ and ‘Away With The Fairies’, and dabbles in electronics with ‘Sweet Sacred Friend’. Even the tracks that tread familiar ground feel rejuvenated. ‘Big Wide World’ is perhaps her most upbeat earworm track to date, but yet it still works amongst all the more contemplative offerings. The biggest selling point of this record however is in how it incorporates traditional Irish folk instrumentation. For me it always carries an innate sense of storytelling. It suits her vocals and songwriting style in a really natural way and it’s blended superbly with the other styles to act as the record’s unifying thread.
Lyrically the album reminds me of Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways …bear with me on this one! That record was released alongside a documentary mini-series of the same name that went in depth behind the inspiration and recording process for each song. While the album is certainly great in its own right, there is a sense that you’re not getting the full experience without the documentary. Likewise Confessional is released alongside Janet’s autobiography, which further explores her story and the deeper meanings behind each track. With just the album alone there are moments where you are left missing a piece of the puzzle. Take ‘Cinema Screen’; on the surface it is a well written and perfectly enjoyable break-up song, but without digging deeper you’d struggle to pick up on the fact that it’s a metaphor for her struggle with anorexia. It’s a trap that ensnares a lot of concept albums – needing further reading in order to get the full picture.
That being said, you don’t need to know the reason behind a smile in order to tell if it’s genuine. It’s clear as day that Janet is singing from the heart even if the deeper meanings are occasionally shrouded in metaphors. Her voice is the keystone of the record as, apart from on the minor filler track ‘Love Song’, her vocals here are their most developed and expressive to date. While opening an Irish track with the words “oh Danny boy” is a little on the nose, album highlight ‘Speak’ shows a stunning range – from wistful and delicate to raw and impassioned. Her deep and purposeful delivery on ‘Honest Men’ really adds to the faintly menacing atmosphere, and the earnest hurt and vulnerability in ‘So Cold’s chorus of “you’re too young to be sad they say” really makes you sit up and pay attention. Even without the full picture you can sense how much this record means to Janet and the catharsis it brings, and her remarkable openness and sincerity make her an artist to be admired and makes Confessional an engaging listen.