Album Review: Karima Francis – The Remedy

[Mercury; 2012]

Have you ever seen that SNL skit in which Jon Lovitz gets trapped in a secluded cabin with Jewel? That’s kind of what Karima Francis sounds like on The Remedy. Her voice, while her greatest asset, is also overworked, and leaves her middling skill as a songwriter out in the cold. The British singer-songwriter’s follow-up to 2009’s The Author puts forth an unforgivably weak effort to build a name for itself or construct a distinctive sound. It’s just straightforwardly tender, frustratingly tame soul balladry. The verse/chorus/verse/chorus/emotive interlude/chorus with just vocals/full-blown chorus template is abused, with too few moments of surprise across its ten tracks.

Francis has drawn comparisons to Tracy Chapman, but her voice also possesses some of Florence Welch’s more androgynous qualities. The power of her singing aside however, these songs lack energy or identity. The production on The Remedy is so uniform that it’s almost hypnotizing. Mark Ellis, perhaps better known as Flood, who has worked with the likes of The Killers and U2, seems a little lost as to how to punch these songs up. The instrumentation is limited to acoustic guitar, piano, percussion and strings. While this isn’t a flaw in itself, their range of utilization is limited, which will narrow the record’s appeal. Descriptors are hardly necessary for any of these songs because they’re all a stone’s toss from one another in pretty much every respect.

Similar issues arise with the lyrics as well, which almost exclusively involve separation, loss, or struggle. “I loved you for so long/ Now I can’t go on,” begins “Forgiven”, a sentiment that Francis parrots on several other tracks: “It was love from the start/ But I didn’t show it,” she confesses on “Crazy.” This is a confessional album, there’s no aversion to fessing up to past mistakes. The record’s honesty is equal parts intriguing and tiresome,  and there isn’t much left undiscussed. Yet Francis’ introspective lyrics frequently feel strangely unassuming, and moments that should be personal end up sounding generic. “I don’t deserve this/ Not for the traumas I have put us through/ I know I ain’t perfect/ But I can assure you this: I will make it up to you,” she sings on “Wherever I Go.” The chorus borrows its melody from Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody”, which Francis has actually covered live.

Francis undoubtedly has a terrific voice, but her diction needs work. She puts so much effort into showing off her vocal control, particularly with the longer notes, that she often leaves enunciation on the back burner. For a record that is entirely dependent on Francis getting her stories out, it seems rather odd that somebody didn’t catch this. The most memorable moment here is single “Glory Days,” a resignation of sorts that actually has a bit of kick to it. It’s tough to call The Remedy a misstep because it is firmly standing on ground that superior artists, and Francis herself, have already covered. Hopefully now that she has gotten this one off of her chest, she’ll try something a little bolder next time.