With each of R&B songbird Amel Larrieux’s solo albums, the album’s title has been indicative of the overall theme and concept of the record.
Her 2000 debut, Infinite Possibilites, consisted of 10 individual vignettes that narrated various perils and situations love and life both thrusts us into and how we have to contend with them in differing manners, epitomizing the belief that there are infinite possibilities and outcomes that we encounter on our journey through love and life.
2003’s Bravebird was the song of an independent songbird who was encountering uncharted territories in both love and life while simultaneously risking commercial failure for railing against the curve of conventional, mainstream R&B to enhance the musical spectrum it inhabited.
And now she has re-emerged once again to regale us with 10 more tales of life and love against expansive soulful backdrops on the cordially titled Morning.
Although 10 tracks and 38:00 may not seem like time enough for Amel to get her message across, the album’s runtime works to the major benefit of the album on a conceptual level. The album has an even divide between Amel’s favorite subjects of conversation: the exact first half is about the emotional rollercoaster of love and the second half is about the beautiful struggle endured that is life. And the plane on which these two topics converge is cushioned with some of the most lushest, expansive and culturally rich arrangements all buttressed by the passionate allure and elasticity of Amel’s vocals.
Album opener, Trouble, is like that first bright ray of sunlight that peaks over a grassy hilltop one chilly, overcast morning. Amel’s agile vocal matches the rubbery bassline and elated percussion perfectly as she ecstatically declares how the love of her life brings out this untapped and uncontrollable joy inside of her that might lead to the grandest kind of trouble. The playful, almost childlike hook and Amel’s euphoric scatting at the end only heighten the bliss the track naturally exudes.
And just like that, the bright morning sun quickly ducks behind a mass of clouds and sends down an overcast titled Unanswered Question. Over a somber drumline and doleful piano break, Amel eulogizes the loss of a beautiful relationship and grieves the lingering wonder that chips away at her sanity.
Only to achieve clarity as the sun slowly breaks from behind the clouds and shines in dribs and drabs over the stunning acoustics of Amel’s piano on No One Else. A simply gorgeous ode to her husband, Amel relates the story of two people who were “searching for self in separate rivers” and wound up “ending up in the same waterfall”. The clarity of the emotion in Amel’s voice is captivating to say the least and makes the slight sunlight feel like the warmth of the hottest summer day.
From there, the weather breaks and Amel puts a little pep in her step and attitude in her speech and she “democratically” demands a potential suitor, in her words, Earn My Affections. Against a winding synth and percolating drumkit, Amel chastises in such a clever and sophisticated manner her knight in rusted armor that his halfhearted attempts at winning her heart will leave him sitting on the curb.
A bright, bouncy ball of feel-good sunlight and the new-soul women’s anthem of 2006 wrapped up in a sassy 3:35 package. A package that quickly gives way to the overcast as Amel returns with her soldier song and lead single, Weary. Over slightly ominous and sedated instrumentation, Amel expresses what a painful cross having no love in your life is to bear. She sounds desperate for the sun to shine yet slightly resolved to finding happiness in settling for less than what she deserves.
And from there, the rollercoaster of love ends and segues into the beautiful struggle of life with the album’s stunningly visual title track, Morning. The bleary electric guitars and drowsy thunderclap percussion make this somnolent tale of insomnia all the more powerful. Amel’s subtly weak vocal turns the lyrical cadence into a trancelike chant that begs the morning to come and break it free of such a hypnotic slumber. And as the dawn slowly emerges from its own siesta, Amel finds herself laying on the bank of her reflection pool and contemplating her own worth and relevance in the music industry on the stark and introspective Gills and Tails.
Amel makes the intriguing comparison of someone who traded in human existence for the life of an aquatic vertebrate – seemingly an analogy for her taking the plunge from commercial success and major label backing to being an independent, self-sufficient and almost irrelevant artist – who becomes desperate to break back through to the other side. Her contemplating if the independent route was worthwhile – seeing as she “mistook this for the Promised Land” – in such a descriptive narrative is truly breathtaking artistry.
Coming back to reality, the sun threatens to emerge again. Against syncopated buzzes, bleeps and whirls of synths and drumkits sounding almost like a jam session at Office Depot, Amel encourages and teaches all the downtrodden and frustrated victims of a jacked-up economy that the key to survival is to tap into their inner Magic. Such a simple resolution may seem farfetched but such a solution, along with Amel’s infectiously positive vocal, will work wonders on lowering your stress level and boosting your morale.
The sun rears its head again on the keyed up Just Once, with Amel’s wise advice that our idiosyncrasies and insecurities and self-conscious self-perceptions shouldn’t prevent us from enjoying life to the full. That elastic vocal bliss rears its head again as Amel makes positive thinking sound like that bright ray of sunlight will shine forever. And then the sky turns blue and clear for miles with no cloud or sun in sight.
A slight air of hesitancy and uncertainty breezes through as Amel wonders if she’ll ever conquer the Mountain of When. Her hypnotized, monotone vocal embellishes the concept of being cut from a different cloth putting her at a disadvantage to prosper in such a uniformed society, and cookie-cutter industry and makes the album’s final drone signify the calm before the storm. Her fourth album will entail what lies on the horizon but for now, the stillness and clear skies only indicate that morning has settled and the struggle of life has only just begun.
So what exactly is the theme of Morning? That love and life are like day and night. They’re on opposite ends of the spectrum, each with their own peaks and pitfalls, but that neither one can exist without the other. And during that rare instance when the day and night momentarily meet and converge is when clarity sets in and strength is renewed and our resolve to live and fight begins again.
We may be shaken by the rollercoaster of the day or strangled and beaten by the struggle of the night but Amel Larrieux breathes new life into the hope that the silver lining in all our paths is resilient and that we will all survive come Morning.