Words: Daisy Morland
Of the many graduates of TV talent shows across the world, it is hard to think of one who has made such an impressive transformation as Vera Blue. As Celia Pavey, she charmed her way into Australia’s heart as an endearing teenage folk singer who forgot the lyrics during her audition for the second Australian season of The Voice in 2013. As Vera Blue she is a confident, assured, experimental, electronic artist loved by both the hipster and tabloid media.
Although Pavey ultimately came third on The Voice, she was quickly signed to Universal Music and released her first album, This Music in 2013. A collection of classic hits such as ‘Jolene’ and ‘Xanadu’ reworked in a folk style, the album showcased Pavey’s remarkable vocals but was curiously empty of personality or any indication of what Pavey was truly capable of. A career as a modern day, Australian Joni Mitchell (one of her idols) was assured but after meeting songwriters and producers Andy Mak and Thom Macken, a shift in direction occurred and in 2016 Pavey metamorphosed into Vera Blue. With the release of the Fingertips EP that year, she overhauled not only her persona but also her music, embracing an electronic pop sound light years away from the guitar folk that characterised her Celia Pavey releases. Fingertips also marked the arrival of the most exciting new talent to hit the Australian music scene in some time – even if she was an established industry figure of 3 years standing.
On Perennial Pavey has maintained the electronic sound while retaining elements of her beloved folk music through its heartfelt lyrics. Built around the ashes of a relationship breakdown, it is a collection of intensely personal – at times almost too personal – tracks that plot three stages on the path of lost love: loss, defiance and acceptance. Opening track ‘First Week’ encapsulates everything that is to come on the album: a tender ballad and heart-wrenching lyrics, interspersed with electronic beats, crashes and an incredibly varied landscape of sounds. Pavey’s voice is made for ballads, and while there is a comforting familiarity when she taps into her folk roots on tracks such as ‘Said Goodbye To Your Mother’ and ‘We Used To’, it is when she explores her hitherto unseen dance-pop side in the ‘defiance’ section of the album that the full range of her versatility and sheer talent begins to impress. The album’s stand out track ‘Lady Powers’ is a glorious electro-pop romp with an addictive, multi-layered backbeat and Pavey’s vocals switching from robotic chants to soaring peaks. “I’m not gonna beg/For your respect/I won’t be defined by your eyes” she declares in one of the few moments on the album where Pavey could be perceived to be making a comment on not just her broken relationship but society in general. The nightclub vibe continues on ‘Magazine’ with its deceptively mellow guitar & beats verse erupting into a shuddering, skittering chorus made for the dancefloor. “I want to stay right here in my fantasy” Pavey sings, acknowledging the almost visceral pull music can have to drag us away from our everyday lives. Away from the dancefloor, ‘Regular Touch’ is a joyful declaration of independence with an addictive chorus despite it’s almost total absence of lyrics, while the album’s first single ‘Private’ is intense, brooding and one of the album’s more experimental, if perhaps least engaging, moments. Closing track ‘Mended’ brings the album full circle, another tender electro-ballad exploring the difficulties of acceptance and moving on. “It’s been a little time since we have ended/We haven’t mended” Pavey croons before the song ends with a disjointed, barely perceptible “it’s getting close.” It is a moving end to an album that quietly encourages the listener to be emotionally involved with the music every step of the way instead of being a casual observer.
As the first full-length release under the Vera Blue name, Pavey has called this her debut album and it is easy to understand why. Vera Blue has been a reset - this is a new performer, a new talent and a whole new direction. Perennial is an exceptionally mature, polished and brilliant piece of art from a singer still so young and has the potential to turn Pavey into an international superstar. Perennial is an apt title – we suspect Vera Blue will continue to flower year after year for a long time to come.
Perennial is out now on Universal Music/Island Records