Review of Isles Album by Wild Belle

Is there a worse musical genre than 'Cod Reggae'?

Wild Belle Isles Album

For a few short months in the autumn of 1980, that much-derided terminology actually became synonymous with all things cool. At the time, Blondie's 'The Tide Is High'; the band's fifth UK number one in just two years; almost made it plausible to admit to liking white middle class takes on traditional Jamaican roots-inspired sounds. Sadly, Debbie Harry and co. continued to believe the hype and spent the next twelve months making a whole album of calypso-orientated dross ('The Hunter') by which point the novelty factor had worn off and the end of Blondie phase one was in sight. Nevertheless, UB40 made a career out of such insipid cover versions of old reggae classics despite actually releasing a handful of great singles before realising where the smart money was easier to accumulate. While the likes of Peter Andre, Paul Nicholas and even Eastenders' Sid Owen managed to formulate short-term musical careers of their own peddling a variation of dancehall that can best be described as profusely insulting. It's not big, nor is it clever, yet for some reason no one bothered to tell the Bergman siblings, aka Wild Belle.

Because for forty frankly unlistenable minutes, they've conjured up one of the worst debuts these ears have been subjected to in a very long time. And yet, things could have been so different. Rewind the clock back to May 2012 and Brighton's annual new music jamboree The Great Escape and they were one of last year's great white hopes. The sturdy, taut professionalism of the duo's male half Elliot combined with sister Natalie's alluring presence and distinctive Chicago drawl suggested a bright future if they could create a record worthy of showcasing their undoubted talents.

Sadly, 'Isles' isn't that record. Instead, it veers from the unashamedly soulless ('Keep You', 'Twisted') to awry pastiche that gives Ben E King's 'Stand By Me' a bad name ('Just Another Girl') and worse. Lyrically banal from start to finish; we'll keep this brief but the likes of "I've got a lover, he wants to shine in the sun" ('Shine In The Sun'), "When you take out the trash you must have taken out your heart, I know I don't move very fast but I'm heading for the stars" ('Happy Home') and "I need a man that treats me right, he'll feed me supper more than twice" ('It's Too Late') make us want to reach for the sick bag or worse still, punch the nearest person in the face. 

Each and every one of the ten songs here being accompanied with a musical backing Bob Marlin and the Whalers would be proud of were such a band to exist. It's actually quite difficult to find any positives here, which is such a shame considering the weight of expectation afforded to 'Isles' creators since last spring's inaugural UK shows. 

Unfortunately, 'Isles' has little in the way of redeeming features and if there's any advice we could offer Wild Belle it would be consign this to the litter basket, go back to square one and start again. After all, year zero isn't such a bad place to be. And when all's said and done, can Wild Belle possibly make a worse record? Better best forgotten then, and yes, even Steps greatest hits would be a vast improvement on this.

Dom Gourlay

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