After selling four million copies of her debut album, an effort filled with her precious brand of neo-soul and the uplifting hit "Put Your Records On," singer/songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae lost her husband Jason Rae suddenly and took two years off to grieve and recover before returning with her second effort, The Sea. On the album’s opener “Are You Here,” lyrics like “Wait till you see those eyes” and “He’ll kiss you make you feel sixteen” suggest she’s just fallen in love, but the fascinating idea behind The Sea is that it never explains itself, even if there’s a new richness in Rae’s soft and oh-so-tender voice that suggests something has changed deep inside. As such, the song’s “What’s it even mean?” question could be the beginning of a love affair or a tragedy, but the following “I’d Do It All Again” is even trickier, as post-argument lyrics written before her husband’s tragic loss (“You’re searching for something I know/Won’t make you happy”) take on new meaning . Further confusing the matter, throughout the album the singer speaks of her love in the present tense. Then there are the numbers that come from left field, like the slithering, funky “The Blackest Lilly,” which struts like a sexy Rolling Stones song while pulling inspiration from Philadelphia’s neo-soul party, the Black Lily. It comes to a moving end with the title track, a masterful piece that looks back through generations of loss and the majestic ocean of time that “Breaks everything/Crushes everything/Cleans everything.” If it all seems incongruous, so is the recovery process Rae must face, and the album’s cycle of mourning, returning to work, aching, fondly reminiscing, yearning, and then back again won’t be unfamiliar to anyone who has lost someone close. It doesn’t offer any answers, but The Sea is a testament to Rae’s artistic growth as it provides comfort to those left on the wistful side of eternal love, and insight to those who are not.
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries