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East West
from Wall of Sound
by Bob Remstein
[archived here without permission]

Rating: 60
File Under: In need of better direction

East WestWhen Julia Fordham's first album appeared in 1988, the joyous single "Happy Ever After" defined her as a winsome British pop-rock singer with a world-beat dance bent. But ever since, she has opted for luxuriant ballads, which she has attempted to enliven either with overwrought vocals or layer upon layer of keyboards. Her last CD, 1994's disastrous Falling Forward, was so thickly overproduced that it bordered on unlistenable. Thankfully, this time around she enlisted 4AD artist Michael Brook as co-producer and collaborator, and his sparse, but slightly futuristic, approach suits her far better. With the sort of smoky tone that Fordham exhibits in her lower vocal range, simple but lightly propulsive backing makes the most sense, and that's exactly what Brook and the band provide on "I Want To Call You Baby" and the surprisingly frank "I Can Tell You Anything."

Unfortunately, most songs on East West are not particularly memorable, and Fordham too often over-sings in hopes of infusing them with energy. On the worst example, "Wishing You Well," she not only stays in a surprisingly unappealing higher vocal range, but makes a preposterous line break leading into the chorus, emphatically singing, "I'm doing my best at...!" -- to which the background singers reply with "...wishing you, wishing you, wishing you well." Throughout the album, Fordham chooses to de-emphasize her most alluring vocal feature: that wonderfully warm alto range. But Joni Mitchell-isms aren't her strongest suit, and when she aims for a hard, "modern" edge, well, let's just say that east is east and west is west, and Fordham chose the wrong direction.