November 8, 2007

Record Review: Nicole Atkins

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At the opening of the first track, “Maybe Tonight,” you will probably already be hooked on Nicole Atkins’ album, Neptune City. It sounds like background music out of an old romantic movie climax, but is a little more jazzed up. The first sentence Atkins sings is relaxed and seductive, practically hypnotizing: “I foresaw you like an old ghost story/ From a family tree that was handed down to me.” These words set the scene for the rest of the album, which is in equal parts haunting, almost psychedelic and utterly romantic.
Atkins’ voice has a folk song quality that makes her otherwise pop-like style unique and truly enjoyable. Her style also includes remnants of country music. It is simply impossible to say how she is able to combine these qualities in a way that is so pleasing to the ear and yet so successful in practically every aspect.
Atkins’ voice is raspy and graceful. It never falters. She has an incredible command of her pitch that lets her reach high notes — as displayed in “Love Surreal” and “Maybe Tonight” — with seeming ease. Instrumental sections also add to the album’s originality, as demonstrated in “Cool Enough.” Her lyrics are clever and cute: “I’ve known you like a siren song that warns/ I’ve been informed you could be the death of me.”
“The Way It Is” is dark, almost foreboding. It is full of emotion, without being corny or cliché. Atkins hits a feeling that is probably familiar to all females (and maybe even males): “You’re the one/ Who shakes at the touch of my hand/ but can’t decide where he should stand/ If I was smart/ I’d never call you, call you/ ever again.” Atkins writes her own songs. Some of them are about love, but they are incredibly different from the female artists’ generic love songs.
“Brooklyn’s On Fire” begins with a cacophony of random sounds and crescendos to feature Atkins’ expressively genuine voice as well as background shouts of “Fourth of July, Brooklyn’s on fire.” The shouting is a little weird. But not for a second does this change my view of Neptune City.
The track whose name is also that of the album may be the most beautiful of all. In it, Atkins describes her hometown, Neptune City, New Jersey. The harmonic voices and dramatic strings capture Atkins’ regret as well as her hope. While she is nostalgic for a time in the past when she “used to love it/ It used to be pretty,” I challenge anyone to find a more flattering and striking song about New Jersey.
Nicole Atkins is as vigorous as Amy Winehouse and as dazzling as Regina Spektor. “Neptune City” is representative of the entire album, within which Atkins transforms everyday things such as a small town in New Jersey into an unforgettable, emotion-filled roller-coaster ride. Neptune City is optimistic, yet utterly realistic. It is an album that you can listen to over and over again. Atkins is not just “cool enough.” She is unbelievably cool.