Album titles are important, people! If you are releasing your first album, it’s probably a bad idea to call it, say, The Best Album Ever! Got it?
Bebe Rexha definitely went out on a limb calling her full-length debut Expectations (WB). That’s a nice way of saying it’s a disappointment. To be fair, Rexha had a lot of pressure on her. Collaborating with Pete Wentz (as a member of Black Cards) and getting songwriting credits for hits recorded by Eminem and Rihanna (“The Monster”) and Selena Gomez are no guarantee that you will be able to have similar success. When one of the most memorable songs is “Meant to Be,” an unlikely hit collaboration with Florida Georgia Line, then you know something’s up. “I’m a Mess” shouldn’t be confused with the superior Murmurs song of the same name (and it won’t be). With the exception of “Don’t Get Any Closer” and “Pillow,” the generic urban pop that Rexha and her multiple producers and co-songwriters (don’t look now, tired Lauren Christy is back) are peddling lacks any distinguishing factors.
Anne-Marie, whose background includes stints in West End theater productions, fares somewhat better than Bebe Rexha on her debut album Speak Your Mind (WB). Like the even more talented Jess Glynne, Anne-Marie provided vocals on a Clean Bandit hit single (“Rockabye”). Cheating boyfriends/bad relationships dominate on Speak Your Mind, but Anne-Marie rises to the occasion of songs such as “Trigger,” “Machine,” “Then,” and “Perfect” (in which she declares “I love who I want to love, cuz this love is gender free”).
New Zealander Janine makes her full-length album debut with 99 (Atlantic). She narrowly avoids falling into some of the same musical traps as Rexha, especially on “Don’t Love Me,” “Numb,” and “Too Late” (where she really shows off her vocal power). However, the true standout is “Hold On,” on which she sets her sights on the dance floor.
Bebe Rexha, Anne-Marie, and Janine could learn a thing or two from Bishop Briggs about making an outstanding debut record. Briggs’ Church of Scars (Teleport/Island) is a wonderful combination of powerful vocals, strong songs, and quality production. To her credit, Briggs, who has a belt on par with Florence Welch, has managed to avoid including a single clunker among the 10 tracks on the album. This, of course, makes singling out favorites difficult, but it’s safe to say that “River,” “White Flag,” “Tempt My Trouble,” “Hallowed Ground,” “Wild Horses,” “The Fire,” and “Water” definitely deserve to be heard. [Editor’s note: Bishop Briggs performs on October 6 in Houston at House of Blues, and October 5 and 12 in Austin at Austin City Limits Music Festival.]
Caroline Rose, who recently released a fantastic second album, has definitely made it more challenging for other female singer/songwriters (especially those releasing their debuts) to make their mark. Fortunately for Anna Burch, whose debut album is titled Quit the Curse (Polyvinyl), she successfully skirts the issue. Striking a balance between respectful retro pop (“Tea-Soaked Letter,” “Belle Isle,” “What I Want”) and ’90s homage that would make Liz Phair proud (“Asking 4 a Friend,” “Yeah You Know,” and the title number).
Far and away one of the most intriguing debuts of 2018, I Need to Start a Garden (Mama Bird) by Hayley Heynderickx is the kind of album that will stick with you long after it has stopped spinning. If for no other reason than the song “The Bug Collective,” you simply have to hear this artist. Taking freak-folk to a level that even Joanna Newsom might not have anticipated, Heynderickx songs such as “Oom Sha La La,” “Jo,” “Show You a Body,” and “Worth It” will grow on you if you give them a chance.
This article appears in the October 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.