After nearly five years, Brooke Fraser returns with a new sound. It is bold, it is daring and it will take you by surprise. Yet at the same time it is as poetic and as beautiful as we’d come to expect from this New Zealand local. Brutal Romantic gives us insight into the development of the singer/songwriter since Flags, and rich in synth and electronic beats, the poignancy of the lyrics and the artistry behind each track is superb.
Opening with lead single, “Psychosocial,” we are given a glimpse of this new facet to Fraser’s music. The audio is distorted, and her vocals standalone until they are joined by a choir in the epic song about the harsh realities of technology and social media. Saying, “You don’t call, you don’t write, it’s like I don’t know you,” she challenges our perceptions of relationships and reality, and the darkness of the song is intriguing and exceptionally well delivered.
“Thunder” is rich in electro beats, and the variety within them sets the scene of a storm which Fraser’s pure vocals build to point us to the symbolism of the lyrics. Rising and falling like the delicacy of human relationships, this is an interesting and electrifying take on what it means to be in a relationship. Following on with “Start A War,” and the tones found in the vocals tell as much of a story as the melody. Urging us to go all out and experience life no matter what the cost, this song feels like a royal victory anthem that will spur you on.
The second single “Kings & Queens,” is a pop anthem that continually builds in intensity. Using synth to introduce a jovial and empowering mood, this is a fresh take on embracing ourselves and living life to the full. Saying, “Forget the wars, forget the tears we cry,” this is a celebration song, reminding us to embrace the struggles that have made us who we are, and to move forward free of that which holds us back. Both beautiful and strong, Brooke has the well-crafted knack of balancing the light and shade of the human story in a single song, and she captures this in a unique and poignant way.
“Bloodrush,” is one of the strongest tracks on the album and reminds us that Brooke is a master storyteller both in lyrics, vocals and instrumentation. Using base chords, her voice contrasts and the lightness of her tone drives home the consistent message that, “You’ve got so much soul,” so we mustn’t give up. Giving us “Brutal Romance” next, the overall theme of the album becomes apparent through a single song. A haunting and foreboding track, it opens with a brass section that makes way for her overview of the beauty and depravity of all mankind. Heavy in content, yet flawless in her ability to recognize the dark and light man has been capable of throughout history, there is an omniscience feel to this track that nearly gives us a bird’s eye view of mankind from creation until now.
In one word “Je Suis Pret” is eerie, and the synth works with a dub step beat to create a surprisingly appealing melody. There are many elements of Brutal Romantic that are reminiscent of the Gothic period, and this comes out in the bass tones of the track. That being said, this track is hopeful and the imagery is beautiful. In this we are again shown just how talented Fraser is at using juxtaposition to tell a story.
“Magical Machine” is an ode to all things electronic, and she uses tech sounds to form a jovial yet dark track that reflects our absolute dependence on technology. In many ways, the lightness of Fraser’s vocals against the electronic undertones and the lyrical content highlights what we are missing in our technological age. This track is exquisite in delivery and her boldness in delivering such content in admirable.
Track 9 is “New Histories,” and the chord progression and poeticism of the lyrics reminds me of her previous work. Balanced with an electro sound, the backing vocals are ethereal and create a new dynamic to the tune. Closing with “New Year’s Eve” and we are given a melody to reflect the introspective longing and loss that we each feel on New Year’s Eve. The instrumentation paints the picture of the darkness, noise and quiet of the night and it becomes apparent that the instrumentation is all strategically placed to cultivate the feeling and truth of the story being told. This tune is stirring and a fitting end to Brutal Romantic and all it represents.
While Brutal Romantic is definitely unusual in comparison to her previous work, Brooke Fraser’s latest offering is no less exquisite and her ability to make you a character within the stories she tells is as apparent as ever. Be prepared to feel deeply, to be challenged, and to feel invigorated for a new chapter in your life. Brutal Romantic is out now.