Katy B: On a Mission – review


In some quarters, singer Katy B is seen as a fifth columnist. Her rise is cited as proof of the inexorable creep of commercialisation, in which musical subcultures inevitably become assimilated into the mainstream. Last year, the south-east Londoner had two top 10 singles to her credit, and one more in the top 20. That triptych of tracks – "Katy on a Mission", "Lights On" (featuring the long-lost Ms Dynamite) and her guest turn on Magnetic Man's "Perfect Stranger" – marked a specific moment in pop in which as yet unannexed sub-genres from Britain's clubs made the leap into the aisles of Asda.

Suddenly, thanks to Katy Brien, dubstep was no longer the preserve of serious guys with a bass fetish, and funky house (the latest permutation of UK garage) had found a voice. Brien's mixed sang-froid with warmth, and clarity with a zeal for hedonism.

Now that it had tunes, of course, dubstep was corrupted (or so the logic ran), and now that the broadsheets were talking about it, funky must be over. But one of the best things about UK pop music is its greedy embrace; how it operates a flawed, cynical, but supremely broad-minded open door to all tuneful and canny comers. UK pop is all the better for receiving its grime injection over the past two or three years.

Fans smitten by Katy B's three landmark singles will be a little disappointed to learn that there is nothing on her debut album that beats them. The propulsive "Broken Record" is the next best tune on here, but it shares too much DNA with "Let Me Be Your Fantasy", the 1994 hit by Baby D that brought junglist breakbeats out of the pirate radio stations and on to the pub jukeboxes (that open-door policy again). There are the ghosts of at least half a dozen genres rattling around here, beginning with the R&B towards which Brien's vocal most often gravitates. The sultry drag of "Disappear", meanwhile, even channels a little trip-hop.

Becoming bogged down in genre distinctions is not the point, however. One of the more remarkable facets of Brien's ascent is the fact that she has made an entire album at all, let alone one as cogent and listenable as this one.

In dance music genres, the female vocalist remains one of the more disposable parts of any tune. Many rave tracks can be ascribed to some guys with gear, plus a karaoke singer drafted in for the obligatory ululations. Indeed, the teenage Brien started off by providing melodies, lyrics and vocals for whoever was asking.

Now, she has 12 solidly built tunes that reflect her love of the euphoric rush of clubbing, of falling in love and the comedowns in their wake. Essex girl Jessie J's album will probably sell more copies this year, but the debut by Brien (who was in the year below Jessie at the Brit school) accurately captures the sound of getting messy late at night in the shadow of the capital.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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