CD of the week - Sandi Thom: The Pink & The Lily

BY Fiona Shepherd


RCA, 9.99

THERE was something so pat about the overnight success of Sandi Thom two years ago that it became easy to dismiss her as a one-hit wonder. Her long-term musical fate remains to be seen but the Banff-bred, London-based singer/songwriter was ultimately not best served by a bogus rags-to-riches story (concerning the burgeoning online audience for a series of internet concerts she allegedly performed in her flat before she landed a record contract) which turned out to be a good old-fashioned publicity scam.

Unfortunately for Thom, you just cannot buy that kind of organic fan support. Regardless, her jolly summer singalong I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker… became a huge hit and her debut album Smile… It Confuses People sold a none-too-shabby million copies.

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For her follow-up album, Thom has expressed a desire to "wipe the slate clean" but, in the interim, she has been lapped by young Amy MacDonald, who has a similar talent for marrying adolescent lyrical platitudes to infernally catchy tunes – although at least she has the excuse that she was a teenager at the time of composition.

While MacDonald's sleeper success buys her time to develop, it is likely that The Pink & The Lily is make-or-break for Thom. She comes out of the traps confidently. Lead single The Devil's Beat is another effortlessly infectious, mindless rootsy pop number in the vein of …Punk Rocker with the added tub-thumping verve of prime KT Tunstall. Its main virtue is that it doesn't care what anyone thinks, it just is. And it sounds perfectly pleasant drifting out of the radio if you don't think about it too hard.

That it is easily one of the best songs on the entire album is more of a problem, however. What else does she have as back-up? Thom is a capable enough tunesmith but her musical style is very old-fashioned, even anachronistic. The Pink & The Lily sounds like something Texas left behind 15 years ago, and Thom is happy to bolster that impression with her bizarre nostalgia for days of yore she has not actually lived through.

On Music In My Soul, she harks back to those good old days when she would sing along to Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles. "It was such a long time ago, I never want to let that go," she pines, as if there is some moratorium on listening to old records. Girl, you can sing along to Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles any time you want – now, how about giving the new Santogold album a spin?

Musically, it's a decent pastiche of her namechecked heroes with a strong chorus. Despite the flaws in its reasoning, it would make a good future single. There are a lot of people out there who like their universal sentiments as vague as possible.

However, the name-dropping nostalgia gets out of hand on The Last Picturehouse. The objection here is not so much that Thom reckons the cinema-going experience ain't what it used to be since Bette Davis and James Dean croaked – it is that she cannot surely, aged 26, be singing from her own experience.

Sure, she doesn't have to sing about herself. But she is no Ray Davies when it comes to the character sketches either. Saturday Night is a clichd portrait of down-at-heel kids staring at the stars, living for the weekend, blah blah, while Success's Ladder is her hamfisted tale of an AWOL businessman, "Julian Sidebottom William Smyth", who is "tired of commuting, tired of computing".

Thom is a truly terrible lyricist – which won't surprise anyone who got a headache trying to make sense of her vision of punk rockers with flowers in their hair. Trite lines such as "it don't feel so good when the sun don't shine" fit well enough in an upbeat, unpretentious pop song such as The Devil's Beat or even a no-flies-on-me freewheeling ditty such as Shape I'm In ("I've got a little piece of heaven and that's what keeps me sane"). But it gets worse: I'm A Human Being celebrates unity in diversity, or thereabouts, namechecking hippies, punks, Stevie Wonder and The Rolling Stones along the way, before concluding that "I believe in love and I love being a human being". Even before she chucks in the reference to Beijing, comparisons to Katie Melua's risible Nine Million Bicycles would not be out of order.

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However, her most cringeworthy piece of cod philosophy is saved for Beatbox. And here it is: "Your heart is just a beatbox for the song of your life." On the plus side, the song does feature some nice banjo.

Which brings me to the more positive note on which I'd like to end. Thom has a really good country voice, best showcased on the polished Wounded Hearts. This style suits her down to the ground and might be worth cultivating in future. Of course, she would probably have nothing to add to the country vernacular – but neither do established Nashville stars these days anyway.