Album Review: Birdy – Young Heart

Birdy – Young Heart

Folk

74%


It’s all too easy to cling to the familiar. Generally we are creatures of habit, and consciously or not we tend to think that, if we’ve found something that works, then why bother changing. We often don’t spare a thought that there might be a better option out there until it’s right in front of us. It doesn’t even need to be a major deviation from the norm either, sometimes even a seemingly minor change can ripple out and make a big difference. Your room may seem fine as it is, but have you ever spared a thought for how something as simple as a spring clean or a fresh coat of paint could transform the space. How many half-baked inventions only needed a tiny tweak before they were ready to change the world, and how many friendships needed just a moment of seeing each other in a new light in order to tip the scales and sow the seeds of romance. 

Till now Birdy has made a name for herself with anthemic folk-pop tracks like ‘Wings’ and ‘Keeping Your Head Up’. Grand, uplifting, artful pieces whose majestic swells and strong hooks linger in your memory. While her albums have been a little patchy in the past, she’s done very well for herself as a singles driven artist. Going into Young Heart blind I expected more of the same, and that I’d have a handful of strong anthemic singles to take away from the experience. It never occurred to me that this latest release might mess with the tried and tested formula. So caught up in my expectations, I’d never stopped to ponder what even a few minor changes might make to Birdy’s sound. Ultimately that’s what Young Heart offers: a series of small changes that come together to feel almost like a mini reinvention. Little ripples that make big waves for her sound and artistry. 

Part of what makes this release refreshing is how there’s a greater focus on the album as a whole. Though it certainly still has its standout singles, each track feels interconnected and serves the overall feel of the record. Her most consistent body of work to date, there’s no questioning that these songs belong together. In a move that feels intrinsically linked, Young Heart also sees Birdy’s style make a marked shift away from the pop sheen that punctuated her last couple of albums, instead leaning into a sound more akin to the golden age of singer/songwriters. Somehow the prospect of a Birdy record that draws influence from the likes of Joni Mitchell and Carole King hadn’t occurred to me, which feels like such folly in hindsight because this new approach plays to all her strengths and suits her down to the ground. 

From the suitably mystical piano work of opening instrumental ‘The Witching Hour’, the album gets off to a strong start. The gorgeous carefree melodies of ‘Voyager’ is where Joni’s influence is at its most prominent, while album highlight ‘Loneliness’ carries some of the grandeur of her past hits, albeit a little more subdued and tempered with a new-found maturity to her sound. ‘The Otherside’ has a lush comforting warmth to its chorus, ‘Surrender’ boasts the record’s most memorable hooks, ‘River Song’ has an elegance to it which recalls Michael Kiwanuka, while the mournful piano balladry of ‘Nobody Knows Me Like You Do’ and the title track offer instances of Birdy’s vocals at both their most ethereal and their most soulful. However, with a hefty sixteen tracks, the record does start to lose a bit of steam in the second half. The otherwise superb slow-burner ‘Deepest Lonely’ feels held back by overly repetitive backing vocals, ‘Celestial Dancers’ feels a bit too cold and aloof compared to the more welcoming feel earlier in the record, and tracks like ‘Evergreen’ and ‘Little Blue’ don’t quite do enough to stand out and are sadly left as overshadowed filler tracks. 

There’s a newfound level of maturity, intention and attention to detail on this latest release that I was not expecting. The more raw and heartfelt nature of Young Heart really paints Birdy in a new light for me. She’s proven capable of crafting both big crossover pop hits and sincere cohesive collections as a singer/songwriter, where most acts would be quite happy to settle for one. It’s certainly no Tapestry or Blue, but for the first time I now see Birdy as more than just an accomplished singles artist and as someone capable of making an album of that calibre.