Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Review: Delta Goodrem - Innocent Eyes Ten Year Anniversary

Ten years ago, Australian Neighbours actress Delta Goodrem, who played teenager Nina Tucker, left the soap to persue a singing career, following in the footsteps of the likes of Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Natalie Imbruglia, Holly Valance and many others. Delta's debut album Innocent Eyes smashed records down under, spent an incredible 29 weeks at No.1 in Australia and finished the decade as Australia's highest selling album of the noughties. It also spun off five No.1 singles there - Born To Try, Lost Without You, Innocent Eyes, Not Me, Not I and Predictable. 

A few months after its mammoth success there it got a UK release and went to No.2 here, sold almost a million copies and produced three top ten hits. It also became my favourite album of all time. A number of tracks on the album were interestingly co-written by Gary Barlow during his wilderness years between the failure of his second solo album and the hugely successful revival of Take That a few years later. Barlow is repsonsible for all of the album's more uptempo moments as well as the stunning Not Me, Not I and it was credit to him that he could still write such brilliant songs at a time when his own career was at rock bottom. 

To mark the ten year anniversary, Delta has re-recorded the album in an acoustic style as a CD/DVD set, the latter showing the videos of Delta recreating the tracks live, often with added elements or in a different way to the original versions. The album is only available physically in Australia but can be downloaded in the UK on either iTunes or Amazon. Here are my track by track throughts on each song on the album:

1. Born To Try

The song that kicked it all off for Delta over a decade ago, Born To Try was a major hit in both Australia and the UK and the song that introduced me to my favourite singer. Ten years later I'm still addicted to this song and this straigthforward acoustic take on it is as beautiful as you might expect. The rawness of this version highlights the maturity in Delta's voice a decade on, she has a certain smoky quality to her vocals these days, they are certainly richer and deeper than they were when she was a teenager, yet she can still reach the high notes with ease. Other new vocal techniques evident on this album are the extra ad-libs and trills and this track has a lot of those. A beautiful rendition of a classic. 

2. Innocent Eyes

The day I purchased Innocent Eyes in summer 2003 (with my first ever pay cheque no less!), this was the song that I was most instantly drawn to. The gritty, mature lyrics surprised and stood out to me and the fantastic piano melody kept drawing me back. The new version adds a children's choir, which amps up the theatrical qualities of the song that were always there to begin with. The 'da da da da da da' refrain sounds almost Another Brick In The Wall-esque sung by kids. It's a brilliant version of a career highlight.

3. Not Me, Not I

The fourth single from the album, an Australian chart topper and top 20 hit in the UK, Not Me, Not I is a gorgeous piano ballad and was always one of my major highlights from the album. The new version adds strings, an acoustic guitar and a slightly more aggressive piano but little else has been changed. 

4. Throw It Away

One of the biggest growers on Innocent Eyes, Throw It Away showed off Delta's fun side and finally hit me about a year after getting the album. The new version is very similar to the original, albeit a little faster paced and with some more ad-libs and diva-esque singing towards the end.

5. Lost Without You

Delta's second Australian No.1 and perhaps her best remembered single in the UK, Lost Without You was a more mid-tempo ballad in its original form but now takes on the form of a classic piano singalong. It sounds very similar to many of the versions of the song that Delta has performed live or on tours over the years. 

6. Predictable

The fifth and final No.1 from the album down under, Predictable criminally didn't get a single release in the UK, despite the fact that it was far more commercial than the likes of Innocent Eyes and Not Me, Not I and might well have been a decent sized hit here. Previously a powerful and angsty mid-album highlight, Predictable has been slowed down slightly here but doesn't lose any of its charm. As an aside, check out this video as halfway through there's an incredible mashup of the song with Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics. It works amazingly well and it's a crying shame that a studio version of this version was never released.

7. Butterfly

Moving on past the hits and to the second half of the album. Many of these songs Delta hasn't revisited in years and it's refreshing to hear them all over again. Although some of these tracks are dismissed as filler, for me they are an integral part of the album and each and every one has its own merit. Butterfly was a bright, breezy, hopeful pop track and the anniversary version also adds a children's choir which massively adds to the sunny charm that the song has always possessed. 

8. In My Own Time

As the b-side to Born To Try in the UK, In My Own Time was the second Delta song that I ever heard and has always remained one of my firm favourites, despite mass indifference from many fans. The lyrics perfectly related to me at the time back in 2003 at the age of 16, where I felt almost forced to grow up at a time when I wasn't yet ready to. And the understated melody remains gorgeous, particularly in the verses and middle eight. This song hasn't lost any of its appeal to me and I hope that this version wins people over.

9. My Big Mistake

Like a natural successor to Throw It Away, My Big Mistake is another fun highlight of the album. The iconic chorus 'how could something so magic, magic, become something so tragic, tragic' is sung in a very different way in this version; melodically the chorus lyrics come in earlier. Aside from that change it still sits nicely on the album as a welcome change of pace.

10. This Is Not Me

In exactly the same way as In My Own Time, This Is Not Me was disregarded by many fans as filler yet quickly became a personal favourite of mine. Again, the lyrics have a lot to do with this. At 16, and surrounded by peer pressure and trying new things, I wasn't quite ready for it all at that point and the lyrics basically explained my thoughts at the time perfectly. The hugely melodic chorus and gorgeous chords during the middle eight also add to its appeal and a decade on, I still can't understand why it's not loved more widely.

11. Running Away

Despite being my all time favourite album, no album is perfect, especially when there are as many as fourteen tracks on it. And Running Away was always the weak link for me on Innocent Eyes, a 7/10 in amongst a sea of 9's and 10's. The anniversary version is slower and darker than the original and helps it to stand out a whole lot more as a stripped and soulful addition to the album. It sounds far more unique and really helps to improve it in my eyes. It's still not perfect but it's far superior to before.

12. A Year Ago Today

My ultimate highlight of the second half of the album, A Year Ago Today is so much more emotional and touching than many of the tracks around it and the simple piano ballad really stood out to me. An early Delta song, she first recorded it a couple of years prior to the release of Innocent Eyes, alongside her first single I Don't Care, in a much more overproduced form and before her voice had matured. The anniversary version (should it have been retitled ten years ago today!?) remains beautiful. It would be nice if she put this, and a few of the other highlights from the last few album tracks, back into her setlists on future tours.

13. Longer

Another slightly more uptempo track on the album, Longer told the story of a fleeting meet between a boy and a girl. It was never particularly one of my absolute favourites but it has brilliant verses and a fantastic middle eight (a recurring theme throughout some of the songs with weaker choruses on the album). Delta has featured it in many of her shows through the years so it's one of the more enduring album tracks from Innocent Eyes. The new version does little to change the original but that's not a bad thing.

14. Will You Fall For Me

One of the songs with the biggest transformation for this version of Innocent Eyes, the original version of the album's closing track was a stripped back piano ballad, with literally nothing more to it than a piano and Delta's voice. This version adds a number of elements; the production has been vastly expanded with other instrumentation and Delta's voice comes across even better here than on most of the other tracks, really showcasing the rich rawness of her voice these days and the notes that she can reach. But once again, the highlight and biggest addition to the track is the children's choir, which make this song sound like far more of an event than it ever has in the past. Complete with hand clapping and Delta's ad-libbing, it almost sounds like a gospel choir performance. It's a brilliant way to close the album and one of a few tracks that has been vastly improved from its original.

To conclude, this is an absolutely stunning take on an incredible pop album. It's been a pleasure to hear these tracks all over again, many in very different forms. The DVD is a brilliant insight into the recording of the album and Delta looks and sounds fantastic throughout. It's also lovely to see many of her long term band members featuring on the project including backing vocal duo Sister2Sister who had a UK top 20 hit of their own in 2000 with Sister. What would be really interesting to hear as 'outtakes' perhaps would have been similar reworkings of some of the fantastic b-sides from the Innocent Eyes era. Songs like Right There Waiting, Hear Me Calling, Lost For Words and Here I Am could have sounded incredible as bonus tracks. But I'm grateful that Delta took the time out to re-record this album at all, it's amazing to listen to as a major fan of the original and it really reminds me just why Innocent Eyes impacted my life so much a decade ago. I couldn't recommend this album enough.

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