Album Review: Caro Emerald – The Shocking Miss Emerald
Once upon a time, before the dawn of reality TV show such as The Voice and The X Factor and the accompanying expectation of instant fame and success, musicians needed to be possessed of a certain characteristic in order to make a breakthrough: perseverance. Many artists tell tales of sending endless demos to record companies, being rejected in all quarters and struggling to make ends meet while pursuing their dream.
The Caro Emerald story is one of remarkable resilience. Having graduated from the Amsterdam Convervatory as a jazz vocalist in 2005, Emerald (real name Caroline Esmerelda van der Leeuw) was recruited by Dutch producer Jan van Wieringen to sing the vocals on ‘Back It Up’, a demo track he was developing with songwriter/producer David Schreurs. The pair, along with c0-writer Vince Degeorgio, convinced of Emerald’s star potential, approached various record labels, all of which were impressed but not enough to sign the singer. However, the track went viral on YouTube and was picked up by radio stations.
Eventually, frustrated by a lack of genuine interest from record labels, Schreurs, van Wieringen and Emerald set up their own label and released ‘Back It Up’ as a single in the Netherlands in 2009. Follow-up single ‘A Night Like This’ was a number 1 hit and dÃ©but album, Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor, was released in early 2010, spending an incredible 27 weeks at number one in her home country and breaking the record set by Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The album then went on to worldwide success, including in the UK.
So, there you go – success on the back of sheer hard work and determination. Now, having secured international fame, can Emerald maintain the momentum with sophomore album The Shocking Miss Emerald? In short, yes. If the retro sound of Emerald’s first effort appealed to your ear, you are likely to instantly love this album.
The 32-year-old’s second release certainly doesn’t represent a notable departure from the distinctive style established on its predecessor. There remains a tantalising mix of cinematic ballads – the most impressive of which is ‘I Belong To You’ – and swinging numbers reminiscent of the excesses of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Yet again, the balance is just right, the order of the tracks meaning that there are no ‘dips’ in consistency. High-quality production means that whatever the ‘vibe’, each track sounds special – fundamentally, this is an album with no fillers. You are unlikely to want to skip any of the tracks on the album.
Particular highlights include ‘Pack Up The Louie’, a fabulously upbeat three-and-a-half minutes of musical happiness in a similar stylistic vein to ‘Stuck’. This time, Emerald sings of getting away from it all with just her Louie Armstrong record collection to accompany her as she stops off in places such as Rio and Buenos Aires. The song packs a real punch and is a surefire foot-tapper, with its wonderful Louie Armstrong-inspired vocal hook. ‘One Day’, which is the first full-length track on the album, is also a stand-out number with its brass-infused instrumentation, addictive beat and Emerald’s trademark smoky vocals.
‘Completely’ is utterly gorgeous; an ode to falling head over heels in love (‘I recall the days that I was single / Used to flirt, fool around and mingle / You came along and suddenly it changed completely’), set to the kind of rhythm and instrumentation that conjures up images of wartime military dances Ã la ‘Candyman’, it’s wonderfully simple but really very marvellous indeed. ‘Liquid Lunch’ is equally as appealing, Emerald bemoaning a self-induced hangover resulting from the previous day’s lunch with her girlfriends. The songwriting is key here – as on Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Floor, the songs on this album, ‘Liquid Lunch’ included, often deal with themes which are difficult to translate into coherent musical numbers without sounding trite and/or forced. A good pinch of self-effacing humour characterises tracks such as this and is a recurring theme on the album.
Closing track ‘The Wonderful In You’ may well remind you of the more sombre elements of Lana Del Rey’s work and is the perfect closer to The Shocking Miss Emerald. This album is unlikely to win Caro Emerald legions of new adoring fans, the thread running through it being distinctly similar to what came before. However, that is no criticism – indeed, too many artists, desperate to appear more ‘creative’, experiment too far outside of the box on their second album, rendering it totally incoherent with their successful established sound. Why fix what isn’t broken? If anything, The Shocking Miss Emerald is slightly more polished than Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor. The perfect mix of epic ballads and joyously infectious uptempo finger-snapping numbers, delivered with characteristic vocal aplomb by the immensely talented Miss Emerald, this is an album you will have on repeat this summer.
Standout tracks: ‘Liquid Lunch’, ‘Pack Up The Louie’, ‘One Day’