Songs for Spring: Birdy’s ‘Beautiful Lies’
Nora McGreevy | Friday, April 1, 2016
Jasmine van den Bogaerde, a 19-year-old singer-songwriter from Hampshire, England, who goes by the stage name “Birdy,” released her third studio album this past Friday, achieving in her still-young music career what other musicians can only dream of.
To put this major achievement in context: as an almost-19-year-old myself, my victory of the week was to successfully remove coffee stains from a shirt without calling my mom for advice. To each her own.
Birdy’s relative youth, however, is only one of the many reasons that this work is so impressive. Titled “Beautiful Lies,” this album marks a significant milestone in Birdy’s artistic development — it is the first of her albums that does not include any cover. The poignant melodies, the exhilarating beat-of-your-own-drum pop anthems and even the mystical cover art all ooze “Birdy.” Unmistakably her own, “Beautiful Lies” forcefully demonstrates Birdy’s skills and her confidence as a musician.
The new album includes a range of styles, including a few upbeat, synth-filled anthems (“Keeping Your Head Up” and “Wild Horses,” both released as singles prior to the full album) alongside much more somber selections, varying from the uncertain “Deep End” to the outright heartbreaking “Lost It All.” Birdy claims that the album was influenced by her trip to Japan; while it’s not overt, one can detect subtle movements in “Growing Pains” and “Take My Heart,” especially, that evoke an Eastern influence.
Birdy’s voice, however, easily outshines every instrument. With its rich cadence and serene concentration, Birdy’s vocals are a consistent paradox: poignant yet a bit lofty in “Keeping Your Head Up,” strong and clear even in moments of tender vulnerability in “Beautiful Lies.” The depth of her sound and impressive range make every melody exciting, even if, like in the slight regression of “Lifted,” the song itself feels a bit worn out.
Thematically, “Beautiful Lies” deals with timeworn concepts such as loss of love, heartbreak and starting over, but in a surprisingly nuanced and mature fashion. “Keeping Your Head Up” carries on like an old friend, versed in the ways of dealing with overwhelming sadness. Birdy comforts with lines like “Everyone keeps a darker place / To lose control, you’re not alone / And when you come looking for embrace / I know your soul; I’ll be your home.” Meanwhile, “Deep End” evokes the nebulous, terrific uncertainty preceding a breakup: “I don’t know if you mean everything to me / and I wonder, can I give you what you need?”
This is primarily an album of healing, evidenced by the fact that Birdy reserves space for herself to grieve, as well. “Beautiful Lies,” the personal title track, immortalizes that drastic moment of denial before the end of a relationship: “Tell me beautiful lies / cover my eyes with your hands / Just pretend we’re better.” In these lines, Birdy cries plaintively, her voice close to breaking. Yet all of this grief and doubt is filtered through a mostly optimistic lens, especially showcased in “Wild Horses”, a powerful ode to self-sufficiency. She sings — almost shouts — with joy piercing through the sadness, as bass thumps and cymbals clash: “I will survive and be the one who’s stronger / I will not beg you to stay!”
“Beautiful Lies” focuses on individual recovery. It’s fitting, then, that Birdy’s finest artistic moments are those quiet ones in which her magical voice works alone. Stripped of background noise save for an accompanying piano or violin, her vocals shine. Perhaps the best example of this comes in “Unbroken,” a tender lullaby where Birdy croons in a near-whisper: “Many moons will lighten the way / And sure this night will follow a day / and everything you once loved remains / unbroken, unbroken.”
I can’t speak for the weather in the United Kingdom this time of year, but I can say with certainty that in South Bend, Indiana, Birdy’s album strikes the perfect tone for the season. It is a transitional album, just as late March and early April in Indiana mark the beginning of the unpredictable changeover from winter to spring. Birdy, on the precipice of recovery but not quite there yet, finds herself torn between looking back and looking forward. In the album, she accurately captures this confounding messiness of the healing process. Ultimately, in “Keeping Your Head Up,” she offers words of comfort that echo the coming of spring: “Hold tight – you’re slowly coming back to life”.
Favorite Tracks: “Unbroken” and “Beautiful Lies”
If you like: Bon Iver, Adele, Florence + The Machine