Much current British pop seems a reaction to Amy Winehouse‘s success, seeking to capture the qualities that made her popular without the self-destructive issues that make her personal popularity unsustainable. Adele, for instance, was a clear ploy to work the retro side of the Winehouse equation without the crazy drug addict stuff, while Lady Gaga’s somewhat inexplicable larger popularity on that side of the pond indicates that she successfully triggers a latent affection in the British public for eccentric exhibitionists. Can’t anyone manage to combine the two?
Well, you could not be faulted for thinking that’s the cynical strategy behind VV Brown. A British singer/songwriter, Brown’s style is, like Winehouse’s, retro in a ’40s/’50s/’60s way, with her outfits recalling the Andrews Sisters or early-’60s girl groups and her music recalling rockabilly. Moreover, the song above is called “Crying Blood,” a title (and hook) that would seem to channel a certain craziness.
But while Brown may certainly be inflected toward Winehouse, her actual music and image lean a different way. The particular area of style Winehouse slumps toward is a trashy B-movie kind of louche, cheaply artificial and liable to come apart at any moment. Her music reflects this emphasis on messiness, all analog soul and feeling, loose and old, lived-in, worn. Brown, on the other hand, pulls a Kenley without the twitchy desperation, calm and collected and very neat, while her music pressgangs the B-movie sounds of rockabilly into a modern sharpness and precision, speeding everything up and surrounding it with electronics and making it tight. Where Winehouse exudes a romantic unpredictability, Brown channels firm confidence and a kind of power that’s very compelling.
Winehouse, for all her faults, seems like one of those odd accidents that pop needs every once in a while to move things forward. It’s not that everyone should be copying the Dap-Kings’ sound, but by bringing in a new and rich set of stylistic reference points, she seems to open the door for some interesting things to be done.