Des’ree left the “music business” – an oxymoron if there ever was one – in 2004 when Sony Music decided not to renew her contract. Although she’d been with the label for an unlucky thirteen years and four albums, ultimately the success she had brought the company didn’t seem to count for much. Even with hit singles, platinum albums and several awards to her name (including a prestigious Ivor Novello trophy for her anthemic hit, ‘You Gotta Be’), Des’ree, then 36, was left on the scrapheap.
Being treated as a commodity had taken its toll and left her feeling weak, used and empty. Her health was suffering, and so rather than get back on the pop treadmill and find a new label, she wisely chose to take a break to recharge her batteries. She discovered satisfaction via other art forms (ceramics, pottery, painting, and designing jewellery) and eventually branched off into the field of alternative medicine. She became a qualified nutritionist and later became a naturopath. Music, it seems, had been put to one side and left simmering quietly on the back burner.
But now, 15 years later, Des’ree is back after an unfeasibly extended hiatus with her fifth album, ‘A Love Story.’ The music is just like you’d expect from the Croydon singer/songwriter: thoughtful, sometimes poetic, but also deeply soulful and delivered via seductive, storytelling soundscapes. In fact, listening to it, it seems like Des’ree has never been away. The whole thing is beautifully produced and includes elegant orchestral arrangements, which at times elevate the music to a cinematic, almost epic, level. A case in point is the slow-building opener, ‘A Call To Love,’ which is deliciously laidback and propelled by an elastic bass groove. In terms of its theme, the track sets the tone for the rest of the album, which meditates deeply on love and life.
‘Drunk On Your Kisses’ is another highlight of the nine-track set. So too, the more overtly dramatic ballad, ‘Honey,’ where pizzicato violins pull on the heartstrings. There’s a subtle gospel feel to ‘Love Me,’ a heartfelt plea for affection while ‘Nothing I Can Do’ focuses on rejection. The best cut, though, is left to the end. It’s called ‘Fake It’ and is a slinky, simmering mid-tempo groove with Des’ree at her most sensuous. It caps a fine return from the talented South London singer, who has got back to doing what she does best. Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait another fifteen years for a follow-up.