If you said to us five years ago that we’d be hearing Samuel L Jackson delivering a monologue about being ‘fearful of evolution’ on the new Paloma Faith record, we’d have laughed in your face. Then we’d have gone away, come back, and laughed again.
Paloma Faith has never set her sights low, though. On The Architect her ambition is stratospheric, trying to bring about social change in as sledgehammer a way as her style and sound. So we have an intro from Jackson, an interlude from Owen Jones (sigh), and songs titled WW3.
True to the title, Faith constructs a world with her stamp on it; it’s a rich and full landscape, occasionally taking risks and keeping us well on side. So it’s all the more frustrating when she falls short of it, seeing her vision realised only in fits and starts as the album doesn’t quite gain any cohesive sonic or thematic footing.
Let’s take Crybaby and I’ll Be Gentle side by side. The former is a twinkling, accomplished radio-ready jam that’s probably the best song she’s put her name to, but it’s adjacent to a schmaltzy John Legend duet that harks to her cheesier, overblown past. The Owen Jones interlude Politics of Hope is next to a brilliantly chart-busting but ultimately disposable pop song Kings and Queens. The impression is that Paloma Faith is trying to introduce a pop-filled Trojan horse to discuss her politics but, being Paloma Faith of course, she’s riding on top of it in full colourful regalia after rolling in glitter.
It’s a shame, given there are some golden moments in one of the year’s better pop albums. But whether it’s the self-esteem boost of Warrior or the disco belter that is ‘Til I’m Done, this is a spider diagram of a record that seems excitable, distracted, and a thought stream that occasionally takes in the world around it. Which would be fine if Paloma Faith didn’t posit herself as some great political spokesperson, but for now we’ll just have to put that aside and enjoy an album as eccentric as the woman herself.