3 out of 5 stars
It won’t take long for fans of singer/songwriter Molly Burch to realize she has changed direction, somewhat radically, on her third set of originals. From the glamour shot cover featuring the singer/songwriter’s glittering blond hair in a bright fresh do, to the slick production courtesy of her new best friends in the band Tennis, Burch aims for a larger crossover audience with an album that fits into whatever “pop” music means these days.
Her press release name-checks Blondie, Madonna, and even Mariah Carey as influences for this revised direction while stating that the album “marks a distinct evolution for Burch.” Add A Taste of Honey’s pop-dance-funk to those influences and it’s clear this approach was driven by the artist, not any label related dictate to move more product.
How this will sit with her existing fan base used to her more jazz-oriented excursions into indie folk-rock is uncertain. But she is all-in on these ten tracks of sugar-coated pop-ness that often target the dance floor with rubbery bass and propulsive rhythms. There are even a few musical disco references, specifically in the thumping “Took a Minute.” The bass-heavy “Emotion” also includes a brief lick of dated ‘70s syn-drums either as an in-joke or just for fun, likely both. Burch initially leaned into this more ear-friendly style on First Flower (2018) but this is still a fairly radical jump into that pool with both feet.
What hasn’t changed is Burch’s sensual voice, flexible enough to shift from a deep burr to a Barry Gibb falsetto. She still infuses emotion to songs that deal with the typical topics of looking for love, finding love, dealing with unrequited love, etc. “I love that feeling, it’s like a drug,” she flutters on “Honeymoon Phase” where That’s why we love nostalgia is also a lyric of the song. There’s plenty of that nostalgia here in a sound that takes a large part of its influence from radio hooks of the ‘70s. That’s particularly true with “Easy,” which nicks the opening of The Cars’ “Drive,” intentionally or not.
Everything on the appropriately titled Romantic Images goes down smooth with any edges polished to a fine sheen. Those familiar with the music of Tennis will naturally gravitate to this collaboration. Thankfully Burch’s melodies are strong enough to stand on their own without the production flourishes that lend this album its warm, Technicolor glow. Her malleable voice impresses regardless of the environment it lands in.
Give Molly Burch credit for pushing her boundaries into different sonic areas. Whether she continues along this track may depend on how warmly received this album is by new, and especially old, fans.
Photo by Jackie Lee Young