Image © Polydor Records UK 2003
(18 January 2004)
19-year-old Alex Parks will be known to British
visitors of Musical Discoveries as the winner of
BBC 1's most recent Fame Academy
series. This is by far the best of the pop reality
shows, promoting, as it does genuine talent and
compositional ability over blandness and looks.
Though I watched very little of the series, Alex
came across as an engaging personality with
a tomboyish image (she is openly gay). The
album Introduction (Polydor (UK)
9866005, 2003) has been rushed onto the
market to take advantage of Alex's inevitable
Not, then, a particularly enticing prospect,
but the resultant album is actually rather good,
and worthy of considerable attention. Alex's
superb voice – emotional, versatile and rich –
has been put to work over seven original songs
and six covers that mainly represent the songs
she performed during the show. It is also
gratifying that two of her collaborators on
the original songs are two of Britain's best,
and most underrated, songwriters – Boo
Hewerdine and Gary Clark.
Unusually, the album opens with two original
ballads. "Maybe that's what it takes," her first
single, is a good song that never quite tears at
the heartstrings in the way that it should.
However, "Cry," the second single written with
Gary and Boo (how I would love to hear Boo
sing it!) is a magnificent song well served by
Alex's vocal performance and its arrangement.
"Dirty Pretty Words" is much rockier with a great,
dirty guitar sound on its chorus, and a strong
suggestion of Avril Lavigne about it. The next
original song is "Not Your Average Kind of Girl,"
a more ethereal ballad with some lovely harmony
vocals and Beatlesque guitar.
"Stones and Feathers" broods in its verse
before a dramatic chorus and an unexpected,
choral coda bringing to mind the drama of
Evanescence. The album closes on two more
original songs, the superb, crunching "Wandering
Soul" (Gary and Boo again) and the emotional,
dreamy "Over Conscious."
The covers, which are mainly spread across
the middle of the album are a frustratingly varied
bunch. John Lennon's "Imagine" is a trite choice,
and despite an atmospheric arrangement, comes
across no better than well performed karaoke.
The Tears for Fears classic "Mad World" is given
a similar arrangement to the version that was at
No. 1 is the UK charts over Christmas 2003 by
Michael Andrews – slow, brooding and
Her cover of REM's "Everybody Hurts" suits the
fragility of Alex's voice well, but it fails to find the
same ache that Michael Stipe manages on the
original. The song written for Christina Aguilerra,
"Beautiful," however, is much improved by Alex's
stripped down, less hysterical rendition. And the
Eurythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again" is
converted into a joyful piece of guitar pop that
takes off delightfully on its chorus. Sadly,
Coldplay's "Yellow" is given the carbon-copy
treatment, when a rearrangement would have
been far more interesting.
Alex is clearly a considerable talent, and lovers
of well-crafted pop will enjoy this considerably, even
if they might like to edit out one or two of the covers. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order
the album from amazon.com
here. Some visitors may it more reasonably priced at amazon.co.uk.
A second recording of original compositions--when
the Fame Academy excitement has died
down--is an enticing prospect indeed.--Stephen