Album: Alexandra Burke – “Heartbreak on hold” (2012)

Of all the X-Factor winners the UK have had so far, I think Alexandra could well be my favourite. Bags of enthusiasm, with vocals that can certain rival Leona Lewis if unleashed on the right track. Sadly it seems that this right track hasn’t quite come along yet.

Her debut album “Overcome” was serviceable, with some massive hit singles, but her follow-up is so far struggling very seriously. I’m not sure what’s really behind this. You can say what you like about X-Factor, but for all the questionable winners and runners-up it’s produced, there have been some potentially great artists. Leona demonstrated this with her titanic success in the US with her debut album.

But what then? The public aren’t usually THIS fickle are they? Suddenly a seemingly bankable star is looking like a flash in the pan. I’m sure she just needs to be in the right place at the right time, I just hope she gets that chance. The unfortunate part of this is that Alexandra’s second album is pretty solid pop music. OK it plays the 90s dance anthem card rather frivolously, but if you like that (which I do), then that’s not a bad thing.

She’s parted with her label after the release of this album so I wonder where she will end up outside the umbrella of Simon Cowell’s empire. As so often happens, this unqualified disaster of an album is a really enjoyable listen.

09 Heartbreak on Hold – Title track is a powerful dance track, puts me a bit in mind of Sash! and other artists from that era. Rather than going down the Robyn route of heartbreakingly dancing through the tears, Alexandra is just going for flat-out denial and trying to have a good time. It’s an infectiously upbeat track, with her trademark big-lunged vocals. That middle-eight is just so cheery, I love it.

09 Elephant – Teaming up with superstar DJ Erick Morillo, she seemed to launch this campaign with a creditable hit. It’s modern clubby pop, a really dirty rhythm simmering throughout. Again it’s all very 90s but in an up-to-date song somehow. Presumably she’s not singing about an elephant literally in the room. Those instrumental interludes between chorus and verse are great too, top class dance pop in my book.

08 Let it go – OK maybe taking the 90s sound a bit too far, the followup to Elephant was this track. I like it, personally, but it feels like a bit of a watered-down version of its predecessor. The beat’s good, especially the buildup to the chorus. The chorus itself isn’t exactly complex, but it serves a purpose, and I think it’s a decent track. Only perhaps not one to launch the album.

07 This love will survive – A change of tactic now, with a lighter-sounding dance track. The backing reminds me of Agnes (you remember “Release me”, right?). Actually saying that, is anyone else getting vibes of “When Love Takes Over” here? All good things of course, I love both of those parallels. The chorus is a bit limp lyrically but her vocals sell it once again. Rich production, just nice pop dance music to listen to, did it ever have to be “OK Computer”?

09 Fire – This chorus (which kicks the song off right from the start), has really got stuck in my head. Weird as I think it’s one of the weakest bits of the song. Those verses are really great though, a good mix of breathless sexual tension and a gradually building electro-beat. It just works really well for me. I think this might have been a more marketable track as a third single, even if she never released one. It’s got that traditional dance moment of the beat kicking in for the chorus, really love it.

08 Between the sheets – Time to finally slow the tempo down a bit, and she’s getting hot for some guy. A bit of a non-starter for the verse, but that chorus is really quite lovely. Reminds me of (pardon my lack of imagination) a Leona song, or even Shayne Ward with his preoccupation with “baby-making music”. OK the song is a bit patchy, but that chorus is gorgeous.

06 Daylight robbery – Enough of that, this is a dance album isn’t it? More old-skool production, with modern-day flourishes in the rich dance production. But that chorus just doesn’t do much for me, it’s a bit too laid-back. If anything, it needs a similar treatment to most of the other album tracks, i.e. a faster beat. There’s just not enough about this one.

06 Tonight – I have no idea who DJ Smash, but he’s apparently a featured artist here. A slow keyboard-led intro, but we all know where this is heading. In comes that beat we were expecting. Are you sure it’s DJ Smash and not Sash? It’s serviceable, but that “Tonight” refrain is a bit annoying after a while. It’s fine to listen to but doesn’t make a lot of impact on me.

07 Love you that much – Unusually this sounds like it’s going to be another dance track, but quickly morphs into what… a bit of a disco throwback? It’s quite nice and comforting, like aural custard. OK it’s a bit plain but that doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate it. I should be pleased she’s trying a different sound (just about) but it doesn’t quite work for me. Her strength is her vocals, and the almost one-note chorus is a bit of a waste.

09 Oh la la – Ha! If you’re going to do 90s dance music, just go for it. She certainly does here, and it’s all the better for it. It’s like Ultra Nate or something. That chorus is really fun and catchy, even if it is pretty naff, and the “La da di la da da” hook is pretty irresistible. In fact it’s rather close to that 90s song, I can’t remember what it’s called, Gypsy Woman? Her vocals get a decent stretch anyway, and it restores to this album some of the fun that I associate with Alexandra.

08 Sitting on top of the world – An interesting sound to this one, reminds me a bit of a more uptempo “With every heartbeat” by Robyn. That’s no bad thing of course, and it’s got a nice airy electro-lite feel to it. The chorus doesn’t really amount to much but it’s nice and listenable, and she’s got a lovely tone to her voice. It’s almost like you can tell the songs she likes the most.

06 What money can’t buy – Totally disconnected from the rest of the album is this closing track. No beat, just her and a piano doing her best Beyonce impression. This sound is either your thing or not, and it leaves me a bit cold really. Her voice is obviously very strong, so it’s nice to hear that outside the confines of the club beat, but that’s as much as I can take out of this one.

Well it’s easy to go “oh it’s all dance music, therefore it’s got no personality”. If you are looking for a po-faced RnB diva album, then keep looking. I really do get the feeling that this is the sort of music Alexandra wants to make. After all, her mum was in Soul II Soul. Granted, the sound of the album has been shaped by the current trends in commercial dance, but that just makes sense if you are trying to sell albums.

Of course it hasn’t quite gone to plan, but I don’t think this album is a sellout of Alexandra’s integrity. If she’s enjoying it, then why the hell can’t she make music like this? I’m very interested to see what her next move is, apparently she’s recording an album for the US. I just hope it’s not dreary Beyonce-chasing RnB.

Keepers for the iPod: Heartbreak on hold, Elephant, Let it go, Fire, Between the sheets, Oh la la.

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