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Music Review

Katie Melua: 'Pictures'

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Katie Melua: 'Pictures'
Released on Monday, Oct 1 2007

Katie Melua will forever be indebted to her musical mentor. The doe-eyed chanteuse was signed by Mike Batt, the Ivor Novello-winning songwriter whose credits include 'Bright Eyes', 'A Winter's Tale' and, perhaps most tellingly, 'Remember You're A Womble', while she was learning her trade at the London School for Performing Arts & Technology. As her manager, producer and primary songwriter, Batt proceeded to steer his protege towards the sort of record sales that most fledgling guitar-strummers can only dream of: Melua's first two albums, 2003's Call Off The Search and 2005's Piece By Piece, have shifted an astonishing seven million copies.

But this third album, Melua has recently announced, is the last that she and Batt will make as a "creative team". Like the teenage son who suddenly twigs that he's become bigger, faster and stronger than his dear old dad, Melua seems to have realised that she's outgrown her mentor. And rightly so: the six songs she's penned for Pictures are altogether more vital, more interesting and more affecting than Batt's seven offerings. (Producer and protege share the songwriting spoils on two songs, it should be noted.) Her 'Perfect Circle' is a sprightly slice of jazz-pop with a wonderfully dexterous melody, while the dream-like jangle of 'Spellbound' has a lovely hint of the carnival to it. Best of all is the coruscating 'What I Miss About You', which starts life as a straightforward, treacly ode towards a former lover, before taking a jaw-dropping turn towards the bilious. “Your skill of putting me down in front of everyone we knew," Melua seethes. "That’s what I don’t miss about you." The fresh-faced folky insists the song isn't based on personal experience, but the hint of fury in her voice makes you wonder - just for a second - if she's quite as honest as her wholesome reputation attests.

Batt's songs, though deftly arranged, tend to be hampered by a crippling sense of whimsy. 'Mary Pickford', on which Melua name-checks a succession of thirties film stars over acoustic guitar arpeggios, tasteful string washes and softly-shaken maracas, is desperately twee, while the hackneyed couplets of 'What It Says On The Tin' don’t deserve the languidly sexy vocal with which Melua imbues them. But the album's only real stinker is 'Ghost Town' - one of two songs bearing a Melua/Batt credit – a ghastly cod-ska tribute to the Specials classic of the same name.

However, Batt's sense of the absurd does pay the occasional dividend. His 'Scary Films' welds an entertaining tribute to the slasher flicks of Hollywood's past - "The vampire's a joke because I know he's just a bloke," indeed! - to a 'Black Velvet'-style bluesy strut. As cheekily enjoyable as a midnight Haribo binge, it feels like the last hurrah for the Melua/Batt "creative team".

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