Aged only 21, Gabriella Cilmi is back with the release of a new album The Sting on November 4. Released throughSweetness Tunes, the album marks a clear departure in both look and sound for the Australian-Italian singer-songwriter who seduced the world with her international hit single 'Sweet About Me'. The album will precede the release of a new single 'Symmetry' on November 11, with autumn/winter live shows to be announced shortly.
Earlier this year Cilmi announced The Sting with the teaser track 'Sweeter In History', a knowingly self-referencing slice of atmospheric pop, with a suitably noirish accompanying video showing Cilmi shorn of her trademark hair, and dressed in widow's garb. A fitting early indicator of the new artistic direction of The Sting, and in Cilmi's own words, 'a reflection about leaving things in the past'.
Five years earlier, aged just 16, Gabriella became known around the world for her soulful smash 'Sweet About Me' (over 2 million copies sold, top ten in 16 countries, 37 consecutive weeks in the UK singles chart, and over 27 million views and counting on Youtube). Her Island-released debut album Lessons To Be Learned went top ten in a dozen countries, notching up a million sales, and Gabriella toured extensively, including Glastonbury's Pyramid Stage in 2009.
2009 saw the follow-up Ten, on which Gabriella was pressurised into adopting a more sexy image and dance-orientated musical direction. Cilmi is today rather sanguine about the experience, saying 'It's the oldest story in the music business, I don't want to get bitter about it. I learned some lessons the hard way. I felt everything was taken out of my hands. I brainwashed myself into thinking everything was OK but you keep running into yourself when things aren't right'.
When the album promotions came to an end, certain she didn't want to stay on this path, Cilmi resolved to 'Sort my shit out. I was 19, and I wasn't ready to give up on myself yet'. This meant the difficult yet overdue departure from Island, and the management she had been under since the age of 13 - 'I found out that 'no' can be a very powerful word- I had to divorce all of them. It wasn't easy. But in a way that was my fuel to create something I really love'.
Gabriella embarked on a musical voyage of discovery, writing and recording with members of her live band. "I was searching for a sound that reflected the way I felt inside, which was quite vulnerable, and traumatised. I wanted it to sound the way Italian neo-realist photographs look, that post-war, ruined glamour which is really gritty and heart-breaking. I was listening to a lot of Trip Hop, that 90s Bristol sound, Portishead and Tricky. But also singer-songwriters I had always loved, Neil Young, John Martyn. And old soul records, Bessie Smith, Otis Redding. It all went in there."
This new, more atmospheric and restrained musical milieu has really brought out the tones and resonances in Gabriella's remarkable voice. "I had forgotten how much I enjoyed singing, and how much better it feels playing music that you like. I felt reenergised, and that motivated me to go on." The sultry sway of the title track showcases Cilmi's ever-remarkable voice, whilst the sparsely insistent soul-burn of 'Symmetry' and 'Left With Someone Else' find Cilmi on defiant, phoenix-from-the-flames form. Elsewhere, 'Not Sorry' (which Cilmi co-wrote with her younger brother) shimmers with a downbeat trip hop sensibility, and the ethereal soul of 'Don't Look Back' is the auspicious product of Gabriella's first co-write with producer Eliot James (Jamie N Commons, Two Door Cinema Club)- 'When I wrote this song it was a real turning point for me. We had a brilliant sounding demo by the end of the day, and I knew I had to make that man produce my entire record'.
Given all she's gone through since being discovered at 13, and moving to England aged 15 to write with Xenomania, it's perhaps odd to contemplate how young Gabriella Cilmi still is- she has after all, now 21, done all her growing up in public. But now, as the world is about to hear, she has really found her voice. "If I didn't go through all of that, I wouldn't be where I am now, and that is the blessing," says Gabriella. "I have made an album that is really my music. I think this is the best I have done, the best I can do".
You can stream The Sting in full here