Failing to strike while the iron was hot, Jersey-based Nerina Pallot took four years to record the follow-up to her breakthrough album, the Brit Award-nominated Fires. The lengthy time away was partly due to her studying for a degree in English literature, hence the title. But it was also down to her decision to scrap material recorded with songwriting powerhouses Linda Perry, Rick Nowels, and Rob Davis, in favor of self-penning ten tunes produced by husband Andy Chatterley. It's a move unlikely to yield any hits the size of "Everybody's Gone to War," but by taking full control, she recorded an album that feels much more authentic and personal than her previous efforts. Judging from the album's cover, which shows Pallot dressed in a large rabbit costume, it appears she has either turned into a Björk-style avant-garde banshee or has recorded a concept album based on Donnie Darko. In the end, neither is the case, as her third LP harks back to the piano-based pop of '70s AOR singer/songwriters and Scissor Sisters' less electro early material. Indeed, the first two singles, the brass-led "I Don't Want to Go Out" and "Real Late Starter," soon to be covered by X Factor winner Joe McElderry, are both bouncy, feel-good stompers that could have been lifted from the flamboyant group's self-titled debut. But as convincing as uptempo numbers like jaunty opener "Everything Is Illuminated" and the anthemic "The Right Side" are, The Graduate excels on the more subtle, vulnerable tracks that justify her early favorable Sarah McLachlan comparisons. The haunting "Cigarettes" is an atmospheric string-laden epic with shades of Doves/Elbow and "Human" and "It Starts" are gorgeous pared-down acoustic ballads that showcase her fragile but stunning vocal ability, while the Carole King-esque "Coming Home" is a soulful and heartfelt ode to her father. Pallot has always stood out from her blander contemporaries thanks to her direct but intelligent lyrics, and on the attitude-filled, self-deprecating "When Did I Become Such a Bitch" and the emotional heartbreak of closing track "It Was Me," she proves she certainly hasn't lost her unique lyrical touch. More adventurous than her previous two efforts, The Graduate is a timeless, hook-laden affair that sounds like the record Pallot has always wanted to make.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien