Five years since her painfully average second album, Light Up the Dark, Gabrielle Aplin comes soaring back with an almost perfectly executed third album, Dear Happy. Built upon a foundation of sweetness and sincerity and a shifting focus on the love that comes from maturity and growth which helps give the album a refreshing stance against the backdrop of her more emotionally taxing previous albums.
Returning to the melodic stylings of her first album, Aplin ditches generic pop in favour of a more acoustic style. At the forefront of every song, there is always either a piano or guitar, and everything else is layered around these instruments and her voice. As a result of this, none of the songs are arduously taxing or complicated as they strive to make way for Aplin’s relatively soft voice through simple means. To save her competing against confounding beats, the songs often feel like they are built around her vocals and this is what lends itself to a more acoustic and stripped back sound. The album seems uncomplicated because it doesn’t need to be complicated, demonstrating Aplin at her strongest. It’s this soft approach that allows for a more heartfelt and submerging musical experience which remains uncompromised throughout the album (even when synthetic beats and sounds are thrown in the mixture during certain songs).
What’s most remarkable about the album is that you never feel the need to skip a song. Where some songs are better than others (as always is the case), the overarching theme that unities the whole album makes it feel like each song is part of a jigsaw puzzle that is only completed after listening to it all. However, at first, this the album’s ordering of songs does it no favours. In the original order of the songs, I found the album less enjoyable. It wasn’t until I decided to shuffle the album that I began to appreciate each song individually from the album as well as how they form a cohesive whole. The main issue of the song order was the spikes in energy which has slow songs thrown either side of faster songs or vice versa, and where you can’t always account for a shuffle to make things better, more times than not, it works for Dear Happy remarkably well.
Interned into the album are many great songs. The album’s undeniably best song is ‘Love Back’, a more pop-based sound that works brilliantly in contrast to the more acoustic sounds. While “pop” though, it has a subdued energy that empowers its lyrics while demonstrating empowerment through the self-recognition of Aplin’s self-worth. Then there’s ‘So Far So Good’ which has an enlivening power about it that has you dancing all over the place. Using the liveliness of its music in unison with its upbeat lyrics, the song creates pulsating energy despite being relatively simple. Then there’s ‘Miss You’, a song that has been released as a collaboration with Nina Nesbit, despite Aplin’s solo version being the far superior one. You have the best slow song, ‘Magic’; you have the roaring delight of the uniquely brilliant, ‘Kintsugi’; and I could list pretty much the majority of the songs on the album and sing their praises because each song brings something different to the album.
However, that’s not to say the album is pure perfection, faltering on occasion in places. At times the songs rely too heavily on their chorus, making use of one short verse before launching you back into the several minutes of choruses that make up a song. After a while, it becomes repetitive and perhaps reveals why there never feels the need to have a single song played repeatedly. The album sadly missteps on its opening song, ‘Until The Sun Comes Up’, which unfortunately contributes very little to the overall collection – a little too dull in the verses despite having a strong chorus. Then there’s the JP Cooper collaboration on the song ‘Losing Me’ where Cooper’s recognisable voice over-dominates much of the song. Plus, it sounds like every other JP Cooper song and proves the most generic on Aplin’s album. There are other little niggling aspects such as little variation between the songs and a few too many safe bets in melodies and lyrics, playing it too safe for my liking.
Yet, despite these issues, Aplin once again asserting herself as a competent musician. With sweet lyrics and moving melodies, she imbues the album with an irresistible charm. Uplifting till the end, it’s an album that celebrates a matured Aplin, even if at times faltering into the same teenage glee of younger days. As her best album yet, it’s one that will hopefully launch her into the spotlight once again and allow her to shake off being only known for the remake of The Power of Love.
Gabrielle Aplin’s Dear Happy is out now via Never Fade Records.