Croydon’s Brit School’s track record for pumping out pop’s heavy hitters since the new millennium may make Jade Bird seem a dead cert for international success. They’re often distinctly British talents, the likes of which have always been wild cards on the transatlantic pop scene, Amy Winehouse, Adele and Jessie J amongst them. So then it may make sense that a fresh-faced songwriter who favours trousers over skirts, dungarees, giant headphones, unfussed hair and a face free from make-up is able to join the ranks of these superstars who were of course, all up-and-comers at one time.
As a marketable artist, Jade Bird’s initial promise was squarely in her remarkable musical versatility. Since 2017’s Something American EP, there have been three major introductory points to Bird’s music for listeners: ‘What Am I Here For’, a deft heartbreak ballad with an atypical song structure, ‘Lottery’, a two-minute blast of playful storytelling, or ‘Uh Huh’, the snarling, up-tempo Radio 1 favourite. All three capture an animated sensibility that show Jade Bird is hiding very little, and consequently, have piqued interest on both sides of the Atlantic, in multiple genres. Just take a look at her Instagram to see the varied likes of Garbage, Ward Thomas, Brandi Carlile, Hozier and KT Tunstall amongst her many vocal fans; not bad for a 21-year-old from Northumberland. The fact that she makes a point of writing all her songs alone likely adds to this effect, as there’s no doubting her authenticity.
Written in a single day, ‘Uh Huh’ and ‘Lottery’ are here in all their charismatic glory. My my, what a writing session that must have been. Yet, some may cite it a crying shame that ‘What Am I Here For’ was excluded from the album’s final tracklist, especially as it’s still her most popular song on Spotify by a considerable margin. I’d be inclined to agree. Although the album includes some practical substitutes for the impeccable stripped-back ballad that listeners to the tune of 13 million streams can’t get enough of, none can quite claim its delicate honesty and simplicity, its soaring melody and flawless performance.
Sometimes on Jade Bird, the melodies fall flat. When they do, the lack of autotune is the young performer’s guardian angel, accentuating her robust and enviable rasp. ‘Going Gone’ is one such example, where aside from a few clever couplets, the two and a half minutes present just the bare bones of a song. While ‘Lottery’ and ‘17’ are her best proof she doesn’t need more time than that to floor you, the ostentatious vocals are best able to elevate the familiar themes to a timeless state when they carry plenty of her most clever turns of phrase.
The length of time between her biggest singles and the album’s release is a double-edged sword – long-term fans are well familiar with what best she has to offer and may find some of the album’s new content underwhelming. Latest single ‘My Motto’ is an advert-ready chorus waiting to happen, and like the rest of the album, pulls no punches genre-wise. There’s a through-line in the vanilla instrumentation, presenting a solid indie-rock record yet retaining the album’s favourability with the folk-pop/country/Americana amalgamation that makes it so widely revered in USA and UK alike. These songs won’t age, thanks to her unified voice and her simplified instrumental toolset, so a decade down the line with a slew of impressive records to her name, she’ll be able to look back on this one proudly.