I’ve listened to Fay’s second album three times – one of those against my will while I was thumbing through the cheapie racks at Real Groovy – and I can’t get the damn thing out of my head. No, not just one song: invariably, I wake up in the morning with one of several tracks circuitously eroding my mental synapses. As annoyingly memorable jingles go, however, these are better than most.
As one of New Zealand’s most unforgiving critics (so I’m told) I’m supposed to relentlessly take the piss out of this second album by the daughter of Michael Fay. That makes her a rich bitch, I’m told, meaning she’s a worthy target of any sniping. Pass.
It annoys me that Annabel Fay and this album has been dragged into arguments about the legitimacy of NZ On Air funding for someone who clearly has access to a fortune. It’s possibly true that funding criteria should exclude those, like Fay, who don’t need a hundred grand of taxpayer money, but that issue has obscured any realistic discussion of her music, and resulted in personal slurs and insinuations that, if I was her, would piss me off.
So before we get into reviewing the actual album, here’s my take on the issues at hand. The rich traditionally get where they are by exploiting any opportunities they can see to make a buck. By definition, the rich are opportunistic. At the very worst, all that Fay has done here is to exploit a loophole that allowed her to get funding when she didn’t need it. This is the kind of opportunism that makes people wealthy, and keeps them wealthy, but it’s not criminal, and to a degree, it’s simply human nature. If there’s any fault here, it’s that of a system that is so easy to exploit in the first place.
Regardless of one’s stance on the issues, they shouldn’t pollute assessment of the music, or the album. The funding issues and Fay’s wealth must be clearly and definitively separated from any genuine critical assessment of the work.
So, then: is Show Me The Right Way any good? Short answer: it’s much better than the Simon Sweatpants says it is, and as a pop album, it’s better than average. But no, it’s not a great album. [Sorry Simon, you’re welcome to call me Steelopads, or more derisive nicknames].
Fay admits that this album was in the bag two years ago, which is a long time in the currency of chart music. It doesn’t sound old-hat, but it does lack the mark – that special production touch – that a genuine collaborator could have brought to the project. She worked with several hired hands, including one local rock producer and an overseas electronic production team, and the result sometimes feels like tracks that are a slightly uneasy combination of several disparate styles. Fay also admits that she doesn’t have a strong sense of staying true to one style of music, gets bored easily with just one style, and there’s a sense that she needs a really strong personality in the production chair to forge a project that’s sonically and stylistically of a kind.
But… Show Me The Right Way (as I said in the opening paragraph) is full of memorable tunes, which Fay sings with varying degrees of conviction and success but generally does okay, and it’s not the piece of r’n’b diva crap that many would assume it to be. Rather than the torrid moves of a Rihanna (now there’s a diva who really can’t sing), Fay’s album is actually quite low-key and reflective, and it’s an eclectic thing that simply can’t be bagged as easily as its detractors suggest.
Song by song, then.
The album opens with ‘River’, the first single, and it’s not that far removed from the soul-pop of Janet Jackson, or her brother on a good day, complete with strident gospel chorus. It’s a little clichéd, and her voice sounds tweaked and reinforced by multi-track recording, but whose isn’t?
‘When We Were In Love’ is a soul-influenced ballad, and it’s a bit insipid, so the album certainly hasn’t put its best foot forward from the get-go.
‘Show Me The Right Way’, however, is a doozy. This song, with its obvious Bollywood influence, sense of fun, comedic sound effects and crisp percussion, is a definite highlight.
‘Already Home’ is a piano-led ballad, and brings the pace down just when she should be ramping things up. It’s okay, but her vocal performance on this is undistinguished.
Fatally, this is followed by yet another ballad, in ‘Not Enough’. This is a much stronger choice, however, and the mix of snapping beats and acoustic guitar makes it somewhat appealing, despite boasting the worst lyric line on the whole disc: “Everything went from right to wrong/Like that”. Come again?
‘Love’s A Bitch’ is the best track, carried by a Carole King piano line and a genuinely rich and impressive vocal performance. It’s a revenge song, and Fay sounds, even at her youthful age, like the voice of experience.
But just when things are getting bold and brassy, Fay opts for yet another low-key track, ‘Who You Are’, a reflective piece with trip-hop drums that sounds more “adult contemporary” than “chart pop”, even as her lyrics betray her age.
‘Steal Away’ is another highlight. It’s probably a bit cheeky in its wholesale cribbing of an old Hollywood-style chorus line, but that imbues it with real character, and again, it’s fun.
‘Jessica’ is apparently about Fay’s sister, and it’s another weepy ballad with strings (real or conjured, it’s hard to tell). It’s not the song so much as the production that does the business on this track: the producers have gone to town on this, with cool stereo panning, bowel-scraping (but not booty) bass and crispy freshness you could just eat.
The last track is a bit of an anomaly, and a throwaway: that old Broadway standard, ‘Spooky’. She does a reasonable job of it, but do we really need an Annabel Fay karaoke?
To sum up, Show Me The Right Way isn’t the worthless product of a rich bitch. It’s not a work of genius, either. It’s a better than average attempt at an old-fashioned, eclectic pop album, with its share of flaws but also some genuinely well-crafted and effective moments. In other words, it’s not my cup of tea, but it’s way better than a lot of the international tripe that raids our charts and our record racks. GARY STEEL
SOUND = 3.5/5
MUSIC = 3/5