Our first taste of Frances was via a song that, rather tellingly, doesn’t appear on her debut album. Coming Up For Air wasn’t just a girl at a piano, it was an ache and a yearn that took in both thorns and existential woe, a song that did so very much with so little. In fact, it still haunts us to this day.
And then a label comes along, with the strength to… well, ruin everything. The Frances on Things I’ve Never Said has been Jools Holland-ised, over-produced with plink-plonk piano and a performance that’s somehow overblown and inoffensive all at once.
That doesn’t seem to be her fault though. If the opener Don’t Worry About Me is guilty of wrenching emotion, it’s more on the stale production of Drifting that we take issue – it’s almost moves in time like a chick-flick “waking up on a sunny day” montage, with the audible glee of adding predictable strings as Frances’s voice sits on it like a big old incongruous afterthought.
In three years since that first song, even her piano ballads have lost any bite. Cloud 9 and Let It Out are so irritatingly by-the-numbers that it’s a relief when an actual pop beat comes along on No Matter, suddenly making us sit up and thinking that Frances could actually be a Goulding-level pop star one day.
But that day doesn’t feel anywhere near in sight, the song an anomaly in a cart full of schmaltz. Frances is way better than the material here, and we have two solid bits of evidence to prove it. Once she breaks out of this MOR confine she’ll be worth watching; until then, sign her off to the dozens of other female ivory-tinklers who have been polished so much they’ve got all the feel and personality of a waxwork.