Any doubts surrounding Ricki-Lee's decision to leave Young Divas disappeared when "Can't Touch It" debuted at #2 on the Australian singles chart. With the album's brilliant first single an undisputed smash hit, "Brand New Day" swiftly became one of the year's most highly anticipated pop releases. With good reason, as it turns out. Ricki-Lee's second album shrewdly pitches her as Australia's answer to Christina Aguilera. Like Christina, Ricki-Lee has a huge voice and explores musical genres traditionally dominated by black artists. Unlike Christina, Ricki-Lee never forgets her pop roots. "Brand New Day" has a shiny veneer of urban credibility but Ricki-Lee's pop sensibility is never too far from the surface.
From the very first song, it's immediately apparent that "Brand New Day" is massive step forward from Ricki-Lee's debut album. The production is sharper, the songs are better and Ricki-Lee's voice has developed a gravelly edge that it previously lacked. The album kicks out with "Can't Sing A Different Song", a rollicking anthem that sounds like a cross between Christina Aguilera and Gwen Stefani. While "Can't Sing A Different Song" sits on the cutting edge of urban pop, the album's title track is a gorgeous soul pastiche which owes more to Stevie Wonder than Pharrell. The funky instrumentation and perky backing vocals make "Brand New Day" a sunny treat. One of my concerns for the album was that it might get bogged down with dreary ballads and vocal acrobatics. For the first half of the album, Ricki-Lee keeps the overwrought balladry to a minimum. "Melody Of Life" is one of the disc's best ballads. It showcases Ricki-Lee's exquisite voice without any false sentiment. The production is breathtaking with a gorgeous blend of instruments and orchestration.
The album's best song and a smash hit in waiting is a cover version of a Swedish pop tune. "Love Is All Around" was first sung by the winner of Swedish Idol, Agnes Carlsson. Her version was the standout track on an otherwise dismal album but was ultimately hampered by Agnes' reed thin voice and the overly clinical production. Ricki-Lee has breathed life into "Love Is All Around", transforming the song into warm and uplifting pop anthem. Some critics have likened "Love Is All Around" to Janet Jackson and there is more than a hint of "Together Again" in Ricki-Lee's version. I hope that Janet hears "Love Is All Around", remembers her glory days and decides to stop singing about her cunt. The quality of the tracks on "Brand New Day" is consistently excellent but "Love Is All Around" is spectacular and positively screams to be released as a single. The same can not be said for Ricki-Lee's reggae jam, "Real Good Time". The song is perfectly enjoyable but I don't think Ricki-Lee's future lies in Jamaican dance halls.
"Can't Touch It" deserves all the praise that has been lavished upon it. Ricki-Lee's party anthem will be heating up nightclubs for years to come with its killer beats and fierce lyrics. The pounding drums, hand claps and brassy vocals make "Can't Touch It" an instant Australian pop classic. One of the album's most appealing qualities is the bold mix of musical genres. The very modern sounding "Can't Touch It" is followed by "Take Me To A Place", an appealing anthem that wouldn't sound out of place on a Motown compilation. While the first seven tracks on "Brand New Day" are uniformly outstanding, the second half of the album loses some momentum. There's not a bad song to be found but "Brand New Day" becomes slightly bogged down in one too many mid-tempo grooves. "Alone No More" is beautifully sung but ultimately a rather standard ballad. "Clouds" breezily documents a case of writer's block, while "World Go By" recalls the days when Mariah Carey still made good music. Ricki-Lee's voice really is a sublime instrument.
The pace briefly picks up with the funky "It's Just Life". The throbbing beats are a welcome change after a string of slow jams. The song shares the same zen message as "Clouds" and "World Go By" but it has more bite. However, the five minute plus running time feels slightly excessive. The album's final song, "I Appreciate You", stands out from the other ballads with its beautiful strings and intimate subject matter - the song is a touching account of Ricki-Lee's relationship with her mother. "I Appreciate You" is a fitting conclusion to a very personal album. Ricki-Lee has obviously grown immensely as an artist and as a human being.
Final Verdict: Highly Recommended
Standout Tracks: "Can't Sing A Different Song", "Love Is All Around" and "Can't Touch It".
My Gripe: The hideous "Ricki-Lee as Enya" album cover.
"Brand New Day" can be purchased from Chaos, Sanity and iTunes. To find out more about Ricki-Lee check out her Myspace. Ricki-Lee also has a website but it doesn't appear to have been updated for a very LONG time!