Scene and Heard  –  CCLXXXIX – Cruel World –  Phoenix O’Neill (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

18835723_1880096632278001_8239687249503528669_nThe best songs come from the most honest of places. They might not always be the biggest songs, the most obviously marketable, or fall easily in line with the current zeitgeist but for the discerning music listener they are the most rewarding. You can hear the honesty dripping out of the speakers as you play Cruel World, one of the four tracks from this young Watford girl’s debut record Out of the Ashes. Pop can be about fun and sheer abandonment, escapism and a break from the rat race of the working week. But at its best it goes beyond such trivia. At its best it can be a cathartic experience for the artist behind it and an intimate conversation with each individual listener. Pop at its best, most exploratory and ahead of its time, can sound like Cruel World.

Details don’t really matter, but the sheer emotion coming off of the lyrical page, the musical soundwaves and the brooding visuals of the video leave you in no doubt that this is a song born from tough times and difficult experiences. The real beauty of this song is that  even though it is something coming from a very personal place, it is also something that is totally relatable, the experience may be singular but the feeling that it evokes is something universal.

Cruel World is also a wonderful blend of genres and eras. It is reminiscent of a number of  90’s pop divas, certainly a chilled Amy Winehouse vibe runs through the heart of the song and it also speaks to the earlier blues singers and soul stars that those artists were referencing and updating. But it also looks to the future, this is pop music walking into a bright new sunrise, changing the game as it goes, reinventing the genre and infusing it with blues and soul, electronica and dreaming soundscapes. Commercial success is not something that should be sought ahead of creativity, but stumbling over it on your way to writing the opening paragraph in a whole new chapter in the history of music is a very happy accident. This is what is happening here, the industry just needs to remove its blinkers and see this song for what it is.

As the music industry wanders further into a music by numbers situation, using templates that provide more of the same to catch the pop fan dollar, the rise of such brilliant blends of cutting edge pop and old school integrity, of artists who understand the long game and the cyclical nature of music, rather than the knee jerk reaction to this weeks fashion are the only real way forward. Welcome to a glimpse of the future.


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