Album review: Natalie McCool - The Great Unknown

Natalie McCool

Natalie McCool - Credit: Archant

Guitar-loving electro-pop chameleon’s follow-up covers a lot of ground

After a slick alt-pop debut that saw her collaborate with Bernard Butler and garnered much critical praise, Liverpudlian singer-songwriter McCool would be forgiven for nervously approaching her sophomore record.

But if anything this ups the ante and is something of a beguiling, look-at-me CV.

Packed with a pick-n-mix of pithy, synth-strafed alt-indie and various iterations of electro-pop, the one common strand is its musical polish.

The Great Unknown is a broad church, with the coolly modish brushed drums and sharp, staccato synths of opening track Pins rubbing shoulders with the almost cloying, bubblegum pop of Cardiac Arrest, and the spiky, dextrous dramatics and vivid lyricism of Feel Good.

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Cardiac Arrest falls on just the right side of endearing, has been playlisted by Radio 1 and suggests she’s more than capable of giving Ellie Goulding a run for her money.

Other songs here bring to mind St Vincent’s electro-pop oeuvre, a dash of Haim’s percussive bent and even heartwarming Disney soundtracks.

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Dig It Out is a dusky synth-pop workout (McCool confessing she burnt herself “trying to touch the sun”) before it breaks down into a compellingly rhythmic chorus that’s hard to shake.

The pleasingly roughed-up synth that opens Fortress doesn’t have the courage of its conviction and bows to swooning chorus and swells of ‘oohs’, taking it into aforementioned Disney movie territory.

And there’s still cleverly retooled ‘80s power ballad territory (Oh Danger), nifty embellished synth-pop and bolshy guitars (Magnet) and theatrical, Florence-inspired pop (Just Let Me Go) to cram in.

And all with an enviably versatile vocal that somehow sounds natural whichever style she sings.

As an album it feels a bit spreadeagled, but there’s no doubting McCool has the chops to run against some of the best pop writer-producers out there.

Rating: 3.5/5

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