RePLAY: Nerina Pallot – Fires

RePLAY is the little indulgent side of us coming out – every so often we’ll revisit a forgotten song or album, something that perhaps would have been better championed at the time with the existence of social media. In other words, if you didn’t listen to these at the time, you really should now. First up: Nerina Pallot’s Fires.

Despite what those coquettish eyes may say, don’t underestimate Nerina Pallot. Some poor A&R sod decided to do just that after her first album Dear Frustrated Superstar, leading the way for the now-Mrs Chatterley to form her own label and, essentially, igniting Fires.

Rare is the pop album that includes a political lead single (Everybody’s Gone To War), references to Phaedrus (Idaho), and a jolly ditty that reveals much darker undertones (All Good People). Pallot’s sound traverses the vast ground between Joni Mitchell and Sheryl Crow, though her lyrical dexterity is much closer to the former. 

Take, for example, the album’s showstopper Damascus . A slow, almost funereal ballad, Pallot’s songwriting shines in its simplicity. “Hell is other people’s hearts,” she says, resignedly paraphrasing Sartre. It’s straightforward, but comes via such an impassioned voice that it just compounds the heartbreak of everything that follows. 

And, depth of songwriting aside, it is that voice that floors you. Honeyed and rich of texture, cracking at the right places, Pallot has such command over it that it rightly towers over many of the arrangements. It’s also so powerful an instrument that it practically carries the beautiful Sophia on its own, punctuated only by fragile piano.
 
It’s a shame that Pallot hasn’t quite been able to capitalise on the spark shown in Fires, though its positive word-of-mouth led to a label reissue and the road to two subsequent albums. Enjoyable but unmemorable, they sadly match neither the melody nor profundity of this second album.
 
Still, Pallot remains a strong live performer and Fires, with its layers and accessible challenges, is a testament to one of the most intelligent songwriters this country has ever produced. Buy it, enjoy it, re-live it, and salute what happens when pop is perfectly balanced.