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For years, Texas frontwoman Sharleen Spiteri had the carrot of a possible solo album dangled in front of her but had felt no great hunger to do anything that was not a band record. That all changed when she split up with the father of her five-year-old daughter a few years ago. Suddenly, there was every reason to do a solo album, as there had never been a greater imperative to exorcise her feelings in her songwriting.
As this was intensely personal stuff, it was not something she wished to address on a Texas album. Now, with the band on hiatus, she has been able to pour out all the hurt and betrayal she felt into a succession of 60s girl-group pastiche numbers, somehow managing to say the same thing slightly differently on each of the 11 tracks, all packaged up with an image suggesting she's been stealing Dusty Springfield's eyeliner.
"I've always wanted to make a Nancy Sinatra record," she has acknowledged. Possibly she envisaged this album as her Back To Black – first single All The Times I Cried and I'm Going To Haunt You certainly sound like Amy Winehouse titles. But this is sensible Sharleen from Texas, not chaotic, live-the-pain-til-I-collapse Amy. Although Spiteri's personal pain is not in question, there is nothing particularly raw or organic in her take on girl-group melodrama.
Chiefly, this is because the determinedly populist Spiteri cannot shake off that Texas commercial sheen. Melody is distinctly over-produced – mostly by Spiteri herself. Unfortunately for the gallus Scots songbird, Welsh newcomer Duffy beat her to this rather synthetic appropriation of a perennially hip sound a good few months ago (they even share a producer in Bernard Butler, who worked on one of Spiteri's tracks). However, the album showcases some of Spiteri's most robust songwriting and, though she is very direct – almost rudimentary – as a lyricist, what she does say is simple and heartfelt.
Only 30 seconds in, past the groovy Motown beat and beefy brass arrangement that open the first track, It Was You, and already there is a grievous betrayal. Spiteri is in fine, rich voice as she confronts her lover's infidelities head-on, doing so with a sense of catharsis and empowerment: "You weren't the one for me, I can't go back to just you and me … something inside just died – it was you."
However, she is hung up on her heartache and in more wistful, sorrowful mood on the brazenly Burt Bacharach-esque single All The Times I Cried. By the time the brass comes roaring out of the traps on Stop I Don't Love You Anymore, the thought occurs that Mark Ronson and Spiteri would make a good partnership – neither of them is concerned with subtlety, preferring to trowel on the retro references.
Not every song is an anatomy of a break-up. The title track sounds like one of the sultrier Bond themes, fondled by the hand of Serge Gainsbourg. "There's still no cure for you," sighs Spiteri, clearly not wanting to get better. I'm Going To Haunt You is also unexpected territory for Spiteri – an evocative, playful saloon-bar canter with that Nancy Sinatra sass she was looking to capture.
You Let Me Down is also quite a delight, with Spiteri channelling 1950s pop divas such as Connie Francis for this tremulous ballad, which finds her at her spurned best, delivering a lovely, wounded vocal. "If there was nothing there, you should have said it when I asked if there was someone new, and it's so strange to see that you would lie to me, but then again, I don't know you," she beseeches, investing the last few words with understated tragedy. Spiteri is obviously relishing the chance to delve into a variety of new musical personas, but occasionally she reverts back to Texas type. I found myself automatically switching off on contact with the trademark clinical gospel soul sound of I Wonder and Don't Keep Me Waiting.
Though she is back on the Motown pastiche train once again for Where Did It Go Wrong, it features one of the best bittersweet choruses on the album, and a simple but effective lyric about longing even when a relationship has limped on well past its expiry date.
She ends with the tender, old-fashioned lullaby sensibility of Francoise. Her breathy vocal recalls Julee Cruise, and although it is not quite dark enough to generate that Twin Peaks eeriness, it is in the David Lynch musical ballpark. As Spiteri has discovered for herself, personal trauma really can be one of the most rewarding catalysts for artistic expression. Apparently, she feels a lot better now that she's said it.