Dream Soldier

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Despite a string of inspirational, transatlantic '90s hit singles and a deep sensual voice which stood up to comparisons with the likes of Anita Baker and Roberta Flack, South London vocalist Des'ree had become more renowned for her much-maligned "ghost, most, toast" rhymes of "Life" than her melodic soul-pop sound by the time of her fourth album, Dream Soldier. Five years on from 1998's Supernatural, the Brit Award-winner certainly hadn't let the constant flack deter her from pursuing her rather innocent, nursery rhyme-esque lyrical stance. Lead single "It's OK," a chilled-out slice of acoustic, coffee house soul (featured here in its original campfire singalong version and more polished Stargate radio edit) features such immortal words as "a cup of tea might just do the trick/the milk's gone off/by now you're feeling sick," while the flamenco-led Liberty X-esque R&B of "Doesn't Matter" contains such pearls of wisdom as "before you think of hanging up your boots/just sip on some juice." While there's a certain naive charm to the over-riding sense of a schoolgirl's first poetry journal, it's a shame that the over-simplistic lyrics often detract from her lush and textured vocal tones and uplifting soulful sound. If she could avoid making listeners cringe every few couplets, then she'd have herself a winner, as Dream Soldier effortlessly serves up the kind of sweet, sophisticated, and tranquil Gabrielle-esque urban pop that's tailor-made to wash the worries of the world away. "Human" is a spiritual ode to the trials and tribulations of life set against a backdrop of some rather squelchy funk chords and a breezy string section which appears to have borrowed Pachelbel's Canon in D; "Cool Morning" is the kind of gorgeous orchestral ballad she famously pulled off so well on the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack; while there are also convincing attempts at breezy country-pop ("Why?"), Motown ("Fate"), and guitar-driven MOR ("Nothing to Lose"). Kevin Bacon (the former Comsat Angels' bassist, not the Hollywood actor) and Jonathan Quarmby's polished but rather one-note production means that some songs struggle to make themselves stand out from the crowd. Although Dream Soldier may descend into pleasant background music territory, it's still a welcome if sometimes slightly awkward return from the artist with the sunniest disposition in pop.

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