REVIEW | ‘Different Kinds of Light’: Tasteful Americana

Many artists wait years, if not over a decade, to release their self-titled album; the self-titled record after all is supposed to represent an artist’s magnum opus; the pinnacle of their career; the culmination of years of musical output. It was a bold decision then for then-21 year old Jade Bird to make her debut LP self-titled, but it’s easy to see why; while imperfect, ‘Jade Bird’ was an exhilarating showcase of an endlessly promising new talent; from the snarling, righteously angry highs of ‘Uh Huh’ and ‘Love Has All Been Done Before’ to the tear-jerking self-reflections on tracks like ‘If I Die’; which was addressed to Bird’s mum in case of her untimely death (“If I die don’t put me in stars / I’m never that far away from you”).

What stands out immediately on ‘Different Kinds of Light’ is that it’s a far more mature work than Bird’s self-titled debut; it leans far more heavily on timeless alt-rock Americana arrangements and is ultimately more cohesive; if ‘Jade Bird’ felt at times like an assortment of diverse tracks placed jarringly back-to-back, ‘Different Kinds of Light’ feels like a more conceptually fully realised piece of work; the only major head-scratcher here is the choice to put the great lead single ‘Headstart’, ironically, at the very end of the album.

The term “mature” to describe music carries about as many negative connotations as it does positive ones; “boring” being the one that most frequently comes to mind. Unfortunately, ‘Different Kinds of Light’ falls pray to this; the lows aren’t as low as they were on the self-titled record (not that those were that low to begin with), but the highs also aren’t as high. It was Bird’s signature rasp that made ‘Jade Bird’ such an exhilarating listen – one that instantly separated her from the hordes of upcoming singer-songwriters – but it’s almost entirely absent here; making the closest thing to a reappearance on ‘Headstart’. ‘Candidate’ is practically begging for an injection of Bird’s raspy angst, but it never really appears; the instrumentation swells and the lyrics are delightfully tongue-in-cheek (“If you want somebody to hate / I’m a great candidate”) but the song never swells to the heights that it could; heights effortlessly scaled on Bird’s last full-length project on tracks like ‘Uh Huh’.

The lyricism here, while no means bad, does feel like at times like a step down from the self-titled album. ‘Jade Bird’ alternated effortlessly between disarming sincerity and strength (“If the day comes where I am gone / Let me go and be happy / And if you’re sad then make up a tune / That I can listen on, you’ll carry”) and sarcastic dry-wit: on ‘Uh Huh’, Bird sang with delightful schadenfreude of an unfaithful ex who finds himself on the receiving end of such treatment in a new relationship: “I bet you never thought about that, did you” Bird asks at point, at another she adds: “If you’re thinking that she’s good / God no, God no” before transitioning into a rip-roaring chorus.

The lyricism on ‘Different Kinds of Light’, however, is far more straightforward and a little too-cliché reliant; across the album’s 15 tracks, Bird sings of rain on a sunny day, treading on glass and metaphorical fires. Moreover, on songs like ‘Open up the Heavens’, these clichés aren’t just throwaways but become the centrepiece of the song; stretched through repetition until they begin to collapse in on themselves. These metaphors and similes are never as evocative as the best ones on ‘Jade Bird’ (“I have walls that have stood before you ever loved me”) and only momentarily does Bird seem self-aware of her freefall into the cliched (she acknowledges “the risk of sounding awful cliché” on ‘Prototype’).

However, if you stop yourself from comparing ‘Different Kinds of Light’ to it’s predecessor for 42 minutes and 45 seconds and, take it for what is rather than what it could be, you end up with a largely enjoyable set of rock-Americana tunes rooted in the classics of the genre. The instrumentation here is richer than on ‘Jade Bird’; from the electric guitar driven ‘1994’ and ‘I’m Getting Lost’ to the Dylan-esque ‘Rely On’ and ‘Prototype’.

Meanwhile, there’s a narrative richness here than was perhaps lacking on Bird’s debut. ‘Houdini’ paints an evocative, detail-rich image of a couple arguing late into the night while neighbours step outside to hear what’s being said, while ‘1994’ offers a Bonnie and Clyde-inspired fantasy and, ‘Punchline’ – channelling Springsteen-esque imagery-setting – begins with a dark and vivid description of a man, under the influence, going through a personal crisis and revelation simultaneously; releasing he’s “been asleep at the wheel” his “whole damn life”.

While consistently pleasant, ‘Different Kinds of Light’ can be an occasionally frustrating experience; looking at the album’s strength – it’s story-telling, maturity and arrangements – and it’s predecessor’s strengths – Bird’s raspy vocals, the righteous fury and the tongue-in-cheek attitude of it all – it’s tempting to wish one could put both these albums in a blender; knowing the end result of combining the two would be nothing short of a masterpiece. But if ‘Different Kinds of Light’ isn’t a full realisation of Bird’s enormous talents, it certainly shines a bright light on them.

Score: 7.1

Best Tracks: ‘Candidate’, ‘Punchline’, ‘Houdini’, ‘1994’, ‘Candidate’, ‘Rely On, ‘Prototype’, ‘Headstart’

Worst Track: ‘Different Kinds of Light’

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