Nineteen-year-old British singer Birdy, born Jasmine van den Bogaerde, is far from an up-and-coming act. The songstress has been firmly planted in the alternative pop scene since 2011, when she covered Bon Iver’s indie classic, “Skinny Love.” With the cover, Birdy not only introduced the song to a younger generation, but also became an internationally acclaimed artist overnight while she was still a student who wore braces. Five years later, her third, widely publicized studio album, “Beautiful Lies,” is filled with the same soaring vocals and soulful, gospel-like ballads that propelled her to stardom.
The album’s producers — which include music industry veteran Jim Abbiss — have extensive experience with top artists such as Adele and Florence and the Machine. It is clear from the outset that this record is a coming-of-age album. As shown by young singer-songwriters like Lorde and Justin Bieber, finding their own sounds has proved more difficult than producing music itself. The opening track, “Growing Pains,” suggests that Birdy too is a young artist trying to find her identity. She sings seemingly of the struggle and pressure of growing up in the music industry: “You could lose yourself in search forever, looking for the person that you’ll never be.” This track sets a premise for what the album will be: an artist establishing her sound and voice as she discovers it herself.
“Beautiful Lies” exhibits Birdy’s signature style: flowing, soulful and soft with strings or piano accompaniments, lyrically confessional, and sung with the same emotion that she poured into “Skinny Love.” However, the album is flawed on two accounts. First, there is nothing original about her music. The album is a fusion of Lana del Rey’s lyrics and sound with Florence and the Machine’s production and vocals, perhaps with a touch of Ellie Goudling’s electro-pop on percussion-based tracks such as “Keep Your Head Up.” Second, the album is too repetitive to be enjoyable. The songs are all ethereal and flowing, but they merge into one on the 14-track album to the point where it is difficult to tell where one song stops and a new one starts. As piano-led indie anthems flow into each other, they start becoming generic, and it seems that any kind of personality or nuance is lost. In fact, it takes a couple of listens to the album in its entirety to be able to differentiate one song from the other.
It is a shame that “Beautiful Lies” is not more sonically diverse, as the songs are all high quality when listened to in isolation. While some of the tracks are not memorable, others have catchy hooks: for example, “Silhouette,” which repeats the lyric “Don’t go holding your breath” over a melancholic melody. “Lost it All” also stands out, as Birdy truly plays to her strengths, accompanying herself on piano and proving the range of her vocal ability on a song that laments the loss of a relationship in a style much like Adele. Songs such as “Wild Horses” are also more rousing, and make a bigger impression on the listener.
Otherwise, the rest of “Beautiful Lies” seems like one long piano ballad that is forgettable, sleepy and mellow. Tracks such as “Shadow” and “Words” easily fade into the background and leave the listener wondering if Birdy could have expressed more emotional range on the album. Most tracks seem to be longing and reflecting the regret of a breakup or a lost love rather than showing any other emotion of note.
In an interview with PopCrush, Birdy claimed the album is Eastern-influenced and specifically Japanese-themed, but it is difficult to find much evidence of this besides the kimono she wears in the cover art. The album is serene and softly spoken, with a detectable star-gazing naivete that is shattered with the end of first love. It also certainly has pop elements, making it more accessible to younger audiences accustomed to listening to Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez. However, the album is not vibrant or attention-grabbing enough as a whole. What is perhaps more unfortunate is that all the album’s memorable qualities are no different from what Birdy demonstrated with “Skinny Love” five years ago. “Beautiful Lies” shows that the singer-songwriter has yet to establish her place in the indie or pop scene, and to create a sound that is unique enough to stick.
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