‘Chemicals’ is the fifth album from British singer-songwriter Elissa Franceschi. Produced by music industry heavyweights, Jonathan Vears (Imagine Dragons, Rihanna, Eminem and B.o.B) and Martin Searle (Ministry of Sound, Professor Green, Craig David), this album promised to be a brand new sound for Franceschi. It definitely didn’t disappoint.
If you’ve previously listened to Elissa’s work, you’ll know that the piano is her greatest weapon and, whilst there are many teases of the instrument throughout the new album, it’s definitely taken a back seat this time around. Take opening track, All The Bones, for example. Franceschi’s first offering begins as an acapella song, before slowly introducing her trusty piano, and discarding it just as quickly for synths and drums. You’re suddenly encapsulated within a dance/pop mash up and the energy is furious. Elissa promised her fans a different sound on this album, and she’s certainly delivered.
Three tracks in is the title track, ‘Chemicals’. Over the past week, Franceschi has released certain tracks as previews to the new album and this was one that fans could hear, too. It reiterated Elissa taking a new tack. The gorgeous voice that fans have known and loved is there. Instead of her normal piano-based ballad, acoustic guitars and heavy drumbeats have taken over, but it’s not unwelcome. The chorus is a huge thing to sing along to and, with the chanting of “everybody wants to be somebody’s first choice” towards the end, you can imagine that ‘Chemicals’ will easily become a live favourite in the future. Although it’s not one of the boldest tracks on the album – that honour goes to songs like ‘Options’, ‘Possibilities’ and ‘Strangers to Lovers to Ghosts’ – it certainly shows a strong maturing in sound.
And then there’s the completely unpredictable ‘Strangers to Lovers to Ghosts’. There’s a dub drop that’s worthy of Taylor Swift’s ‘Trouble’, and a rattle that evokes the poison of a snake. Franceschi’s voice has never sounded better – you can hear every emotion in the track, from the sneer in her voice to when her voice catches in contemplation at what could have been. There’s a rap from newcomer, Sami Switch, towards the end of the song which fits perfectly, cementing the fact that Elissa’s new sound has no limits and it’s here to stay.
Elissa has already hailed ‘O Brother’ (above) as one of her personal favourites from the album. Presumably a dedication to her younger brother, You Me At Six’s Josh Franceschi, the song showcases Elissa’s newfound guitar skills to create a sweet sound. “O Brother, I’ll do all in my power to keep you safe” she whispers, quiet determination in her voice. It’s beautiful, touching and – quite frankly – refreshing to hear a dedication to a family member as tender as this.
‘I Don’t Love You’ goes back to Elissa’s piano-playing days, but it’s not an unwelcome contribution. Her voice in this track flits between hitting seemingly endless high notes, dropping to a soulful chatter, before spitting venom at the end, making it a standout track. The other piano-driven songs on the album offer something different, too. ‘Like Paradise’ feels as though it’s come straight from the Bioshock Infinite soundtrack, the track crackles throughout, giving it the feel of an old record, and the vocals and piano underneath the distortion reinforce its place as a strong ballad which could’ve strolled out of the thirties and onto your iPod. Wistful ballad, ‘Neon Lights’ sees Franceschi firmly back behind the piano and provides the perfect song to end summer with.
The first song fans were given was the album’s ninth track, ‘Options’. How to describe this song with justice? ‘Options’ is atmospheric, from Elissa’s vocals to the use of piano, bass and synths scattered throughout the song, it’s a sprawling work, reminiscent of the early works of Polly Scattergood. Elissa’s breathy voice in the chorus lifts the song into something undeniably larger than it may have been before. It’s something completely new for the singer-songwriter, but it leaves me with little goosebumps on my arms, so I’d say that this change in direction is very, very welcome.
Franceschi ends the record with ‘Possibilities’, an uplifting track complete with handclaps and ‘oh oh’s that will surely get the crowd singing. “I’ve got faith that could cut through stone” she declares and, as the album finishes, I don’t doubt it in the slightest.
It took faith to make an album like this and a huge element of risk, especially for an independent artist. It has undoubtedly paid off and ‘Chemicals’ is Franceschi’s strongest work yet. From her experimentation with synths in songs like ‘Courage’ and ‘Strangers…’ to the twists on ballads that fans thought would be familiar, Elissa has pulled out all the surprises and has been rewarded with the best album of her career. Take a bow, Miss Franceschi, the drinks are on us!
‘Chemicals’ is released September 29th, pre-order from iTunes here.