Brooke Fraser - Brutal Romantic

by Jessikah Hope Stenson

When it comes to Brooke Fraser, we’re used to the typical singer-songwriter with acoustic guitar and vocal patterns that scream folk. However, Brutal Romantic is Fraser’s fourth album and to maintain her predictable sound would do her no favours in this day and age, so a change in style was anticipated. I’m curious to evaluate whether or not Fraser has lost her amiable personality to the crushing nature of the music industry.

2014 has seen many musicians embrace stylistic transitions, most notably Taylor Swift who ditched country for electro-pop only last month. This particular shift is immensely popular, so it’s no shock that Brooke Fraser has also decided to develop the pop elements of her previous releases. However, Brutal Romantic is seemingly emotionless and unimaginative. Second track, Thunder, is just a list of synonyms with maraca-like backing. With a constant beat that allows no progression, Thunder will never be a song that you choose to listen to when you’re scrolling through your iPod. Similarly, tracks like Bloodrush, Brutal Romance, and Je Suis Pret blend into one meaningless blur of computerised nonsense. It’s clear that while Brooke Fraser’s talent remains, the songs don’t project her skill sufficiently, causing this album to fall short of expectations. Whilst Taylor Swift maintained her relatability in her charismatic fifth album, 1989, Brooke Fraser risks becoming just another female face in the pop industry, selling her individuality for the sake of altering her style. Perhaps us listeners need to stop looking for the artist in the music, a sin I am definitely accountable for.

Thankfully, that’s all for the negative since Brutal Romantic is not a bad album - far from it. For anyone who is only now stumbling across Brooke Fraser, Brutal Romantic has the potential to be enthralling. New Histories is an obvious stand-out track, slowing the album down and compelling a serious tone; it finally feels as though Fraser has something to say. Her incorporation of keys is a flattering addition to the gentle bass. Likewise, Kings & Queens is another success – with its catchy chorus, fierce beat, and positive tone, Fraser is evidently aware of what makes a good pop track. Across these impressive songs, there are sharp contrasts from deeply layered electronic instrumentation to pure vocals, and I’m pleased to note that it’s enchanting. While we’re talking about vocals – listen to Start A War if you wish to remind yourself of Fraser’s vocal talent. Despite masking her strong ability behind auto-tune on most of the other tracks, Start A War reveals that her impressive vocal range is still in fact very present. What’s more, Fraser integrates wise lyrics, that insinuate Fraser’s fighting spirit – it’s a truly empowering track.

If you’re going to start a war, You’d better know the choice you made is one worth fighting for.

A final must-listen, Magical Machine, is captivating in its variation from previous tracks; for instance, the electronics are layered complexly and encompass a variety of patterns to allow an actual progression. Likewise, Fraser’s inclusion of sound effects is an interesting addition to her usual instrumentation; the clapping in Psychosocial generates the atmosphere of a live show. As a result, Brutal Romantic is undoubtedly a risky album. However, Fraser ventures into enchanting extras, such as these sound effects, which contribute to form a passionate impact.

For me, Brutal Romantic is an incredibly varied album. Although there are notably brilliant tracks that I will have on repeat for days, months, and years to come, there are songs that definitely fall short of the mark. For the sake of the songs that triumph, it’s still worth a listen. After all, it’s the debut pop album of a folk singer-songwriter, don’t forget. Considering that Brooke Fraser has only just entered the world of pop, Brutal Romantic is a justifiable achievement.