Corinne Bailey Rae made her debut in 2006 with “Like a Star”, a smooth, soulful ballad, introducing the English singer-songwriter with her signature soft-spoken sound. But the second single, “Put Your Records On”, brought stardom and pushed her eponymous album to No. 1 in its first week.
A little over two years later, though, her world came crashing down when her husband, 31-year-old musician Jason Rae, was found dead of an accidental drug overdose. In an interview with Billboard, Corinne explained, “There was a long period where I didn’t really hear any songs.” Fortunately, though, she began to make music again and her songwriting instinct ‘just started to reappear. I don’t know why, but I was glad to have it back.’”
“I really didn’t want to make the same record twice,” Corinne says of The Sea, her deeply personal, emotional sophomore effort, which she says in the liner notes, “like everything I do, is made to try and impress Jason Bruce Rae”. The opening track, “Are You Here”, begins “He’s a real live wire / He’s the best of his kind”, and the love and longing she feels is immediately evident and haunting. Written after an argument between the couple two months before Jason’s death, “I’d Do It All Again” details commitment to the relationship despite moments of difficulty.
But “I didn’t set out to write songs about grief,” Corinne says. The album switches gears and offers a bluesy-funk feel with “Feels Like the First Time” and the rock-infused jam session with ?uestlove on “The Blackest Lily”. Things slow down on “Closer” with its perfect symphony of horns and smooth, mellow groove. “Love’s On Its Way”, a macabre meandering of Corinne’s thoughts, and “I Would Like to Call It Beauty”, a sleepy tune reminiscent of a Ray LaMontagne track, may not be fan favorites, but even her worst isn’t too far off from her best.
“Paris Nights/ New York Mornings” is the album’s catchy track and could have easily been included on her debut with its bubbly, pop feel. “Paper Dolls”, though, almost feels out of place with its post-punk revival, but juxtaposed with “Diving for Hearts” and the ending title track, it somehow works.
Everyone isn’t going to like The Sea, but those who do will love it as Corinne approaches new territory and further solidifies herself as one of the top singer-songwriters of our day. Rooted in powerfully striking production, the album complements her sometimes lackadaisical voice and other times urges its strength accordingly. The Sea is a great album which only showcases the greatness to come.