Paloma Faith calls her fourth album a “social observation record”, and it begins with a spoken-word intro from Samuel L Jackson, who tells us, “Do not be fearful of evolution – the time is now”. Left-wing political commentator Owen Jones, who’s previously opened for Faith on tour, pops up later to argue for “a society run in the interests of the majority”. Then there’s another track on which Faith’s backing singers explain why they feel like “pawns”. It’s a brave move from an artist whose biggest hit, ‘Only Love Can Hurt Like This’, is a love song written by ’90s power- ballad queen Diane Warren.
Aside from these interludes, ‘The Architect’ feels like business as usual for Faith, whose previous three albums all went double platinum. She says she wrote ‘Guilty’ about the Brexit vote and interprets ‘Warrior’, which was actually written by Sia, as a song about the refugee crisis. But it’s hard to imagine many listeners will realise: the album’s glossy production and lyrical vagueness mean these songs could just as easily be about relationships.
“We all need a bit of kindness / All this cruelty is so mindless,” she sings on ‘I’ll Be Gentle’, a trite duet with John Legend. Fortunately, Faith’s “social observations” are set to some strong pop-soul tracks. The slinky ‘Crybaby’ recalls late-’90s R&B producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins’ work. ‘WW3’ sounds like a Lana Del Rey tune on protein shakes. ‘Surrender’ has a massive chorus with a welcome hint of melancholy. Faith sounds fantastic throughout, and there’s no faulting her commitment to the material. As Sia-penned power ballads go, ‘Warrior’ feels a bit second-rate, but Faith attacks it like she’s belting out the next ‘Titanium’.
‘The Architect’ may not quite be the album she thinks it is, but it should cement Faith’s position in the top tier of British pop singers.