Sunday 18 March 2012

Alex Winston - King Con

Album review by James M

Pop - a word that once described accessible music, yet these days is frequented by those wishing to make a dig at an artist. You can’t really blame them. The UK Top 40 is full of horrible, manufactured 'pop' artists these days and so people rightly have a point at times. However once every few years an artist comes along that generally pleases the indie snobs and Radio 1 listeners alike. Back in 2010 I had a little bet that the next big thing would be Alex Winston. Immediate enough to please passers by but with enough depth for those wishing to pursue their interests further, her early work seemed like the perfect package. Sure enough, 2011 came by and ‘Choice Notes’ was on no less than 3 major TV commercials. “That’s it” I thought. “She’s made the big time”. Yet humming the chorus aside, 2012 has arrived and she’s still very much an underground name. Upon seeing the track listing for debut album ‘King Con’ I had mixed emotions. At least five of the tracks on here are repackaged versions of former singles, EP tracks and their B-sides. I was hoping for a fresh new start but given the quality of her early work, I also felt it might be third time lucky and that people may finally be won over by some of the finest pop songs I’d heard in the previous two years.

With so many singles and EPs already under her belt before the album was even recorded, three of the opening four tracks on ‘King Con’ will be vaguely familiar to some of you. “That’s a vague statement in itself”, I hear you say. The reason for this is due to the production on not just these but the album overall. It shows Winston’s productivity, when instead of throwing together bits and bobs, she seems to have rerecorded tracks that once had a raw feel to them and turned them into the majestic pieces of music they deserved to be. ‘Fire Ant’ comes in at 100mph and is the sound of a woman scorned. Somewhat ironically she yells “God damn you’re back again, trying to get under my skin”. Perhaps flailing relationships have more in common with the record industry than people give them credit for. Though it’s open to interpretation of course, ‘Velvet Elvis’ is possibly Winston’s filthiest moment with a lyrical content to shock the mothers out there. After sticking a 'Parental Advisory' sticker on the case, what follows is one of those moments that can make you become a snob. Winston’s innocent voice paves way for one of the biggest choruses I’ve heard for a long time and this has the making of a chart hit all over it. Anybody in need on an antidote for the filth that has preceded it needn’t look any further than ‘Medicine’. Yet another flawless moment in which she sounds once more like a woman on a mission, “don’t settle for less” being the strong message here.

It’s testament to both the quality of the musicianship on this record and the songwriting ability, in that never once do you really feel like you’re settling for second best anyway. The album's stand out track ‘Locomotive’ comes in and as the name suggests, it hits you like a freight train. Every individual aspect from the harmonies, right through to the changes in sound levels feel like they’ve been given the 100% attention that, in fairness, every record deserves but sadly some don’t get. It’s because of this that little moments stand out. Sure, with lyrics like “I wish I cared about the things you care about but I don’t”, on paper this could be any female solo artist in her mid 20’s telling tales of heartbreak, singing lyrics given to her by an A & R man. But on listening you get a real feel of sincerity and emotion that you don’t get on so many other pop singles. ‘Sister Wife’ and ‘Choice Notes’ enter half way in the album and are the last of the previously heard material. It’s hard not repeating myself and not wanting to use a Thesaurus every five seconds to come up with new words, but both really do have the sound to tear down stadium speakers. Winston has a rather unusual vocal style and it’s heard best in ‘Sister Wife’. A classically trained Opera singer to begin with, she has encompassed so many styles with such ease. Falsetto like one second, brash the next, before ending up angelic once more, there’s definitely no need for computers to enhance the pitch here in what is a beautiful and very individual concoction.

The wilderness is opened up as we get towards the end and there’s not a former single in sight. For me this was always going to be the real test and to see if ‘King Con’ was more than just another average album from a once promising female solo artist. There is of course nothing to worry about as there’s no filler on here. Sure, if there’s any criticism to be found then it’s that the likes of ‘Shock Me’ and ‘Benny’ slow down the fun a little. This proves that there’s nothing throwaway though and that there’s a soul to the album. And that’s the key word really here: 'soul'. This feels like a collective effort, one that has been produced and tweaked in every little area that needed it. I’ve never read any interviews but I get the feeling that Alex had a say in everything that went on here, unlike some of her counterparts. As she readies her exit we’re left with ‘The Fold’, a loud climax in which like the singles and EPs before it, leaves us waiting for more. It’s a cruel music world and 9 times out of 10 the best are left kept as a secret to those who want to cherish and keep them to themselves. This is an album that deserves all the recognition it can get, a wonderful, well put together pop gem. If it so happens that in another two years you whisper the name Alex Winston and nobody recognises it, thank yourself you've got King Con for your own pleasure.

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