Poppy Fardell - Better Start
Poppy Fardell has had a pretty meteoric 18 months, she first appeared on our radar with a stunning 20 minute set at Vic Allen's Green Note Matinee EP Launch. She emerged seemingly fully formed as an artist with a clutch of well written songs and a Bob Dylan cover and a great grasp of how to grab and hold the attention of an audience.
Many of those songs have now found their way onto her debut EP "Better Start", clocking in with a generous 6 songs, bringing together her first few singles with some previously unavailable songs to make a neat tidy little package.
With Tim Prottey-Jones onboard as producer the results are as you would expect are highly polished with a fine attention to detail, that allows Poppy's writing and performing to shine.
"Lose Myself In You" gets things off to a bright start, with its addictive pure poppy chorus
It's tale of infatuation where you can't help but constantly think of someone
I can feel you there in my mind"
down to the noticing that
"When you walk your head rocks from left to right"
There are some great little production touches such as the little background guitar that gives a little lift to the track, while Poppy's vocals are perfectly captured, allowed to run free without ever crossing into "X Factor" territory.
The title track "Better Start" is something of a wake up call to start to pull herself together after a break up. The opening lines paint a picture of someone in a bad way
"Broken mirror - empty plates
Last weeks mascara still running down my face"
One of the common traits throughout this EP is the descriptive qualities of the lyrics, that allow the listener to fill in a lot of the gaps to build up a vivid mental picture. There is an uncomfortable realisation of just how bad things have become and that the facade being projected is fooling no-one.
"Ain't moving forward - I ain't even on the road
I tell everyone I'm doing fine, I'm staying strong
But I think everyone knows i've been lying all along""
The first line of the chorus is also an example of the art of the wordsmith
" I never did drink whisky - I don't like the aftertaste" is a jarringly unusual phrase, that immediately cements this song into your memory and sets the listener up for a little reveal later, where the lyric will be tweaked just the once, but it will play a key part within the context of the song.
Recognizing that you are in a state is half of the battle to get on the road to recovery
"I know if I don't start then I'll get left behind
and I'll never get him off my mind"
In true country style she finds solace in songs that detail what to do in such a situation to help her move on and so we come to that aforementioned lyric tweak which suggests a bold resolve to move forward
"I never did drink whisky but I own a bottle now
Can't wait to wipe away these memories - one more shot will drown them out"
only to find it immediately tested by the thought of having to burn his picture, a problem she meets half way at least by "turning the frame around". It is because it is all completely believable that the song succeeds on so many levels. All this is set to a cracking tune, with a full on ensemble of piano, strings and excellently picked out guitar, in addition Poppy's vocals and backing harmonies are excellently placed to make this hugely enjoyable.
"Hometown Hero" is a song that is quintessentially so Nashville, although one assumes its inspiration lies much closer to home. It's a universal song that anyone, in any part of the world who has left a smaller provincial town could associate with; what would have happened if I had stayed? Poppy ( and co writer Beth Keeping ) turn this into a "Sliding Doors" style song so first we have are introduced to reality
"Heard you had a kid and he just turned one now
You did everything you said you'd do,
Stayed in that small town"
There is a touch "nostalgia" reliving the excitement of times gone by and then we are thrown into a world of "What if" scenarios of alternate versions of reality.
"If I never left you in the rear view mirror would you and I have ended up together?" is considered.
The night before she was due to leave there was "a near miss moment" and Poppy ponders on what course of events might have made her "stay around". It is all very cinematic and any accompanying video would have the script already written for it. This is very complete piece of song writing where everything is neatly tied up because all of these flights of fancy are eventually dismissed and we are left with the key line
"I wouldn't grown in to who I am now if I'd have stayed in my hometown"
Musically, nearly everything happens around the prominent piano line and Poppy's vocal's which come across as totally plausible and give the song the pathos it requires.
"Drive", sound wise is slightly different to the rest of the EP, the guitar is relegated to the background, handing over the lead to piano mandolin and violin, it also sees Tim step out of the production booth to take up vocal duties which he does with some aplomb.
It's another great piece of writing ( co written with Liv Austen ) with driving serving as a metaphor for a successful relationship. This is a union that is a testimony to perseverance with one party needing a lot of convincing that it could work.
"You never gave up, no you never stopped
You turned a maze into a highway road"
Tim's arrival on vocals at the start of the second verse is a revelation and takes an already great track to another level - the two voice entwining to great effect.
There's a warm tribute to the man that waited
"You knew it'd take some time before I could feel what i feel
You never expected too much - you stuck around even when I said that I couldn't trust
You knew this was different, though i took some convincing".
It all comes a happy conclusion with Poppy singing
"Now with you by my side - all I want to do is "Drive" with "drive" being repeated longingly multiple times
"Hayley" was the debut single and went on to become one of our favourite singles of 2019, one of the key reasons for this lay in Tim's superior production, with a mood setting electric guitar, and organ and a pulsing drum beat. The lyrics read like a treatment for a new HBO 8 part Mini Series, they are laced various little details about the eponymous heroine of the song and the world she inhabits, that she was "small and shy until she questioned why?" and that she lives in a world of "flames and hunting" where "one by one they were forced to fight". She then becomes a mythological Robin Hood style figure around who her own folk lore builds.
Many months later it retains all of its mystery and sounds as fresh ever, whether it be the urgent mandolin playing in the chorus, or the different ways that Poppy brings us to the chorus each time and of course Poppy's deliciously extended pronouncing of "Hayley".
The final track, a Maddie & Tae cover, "Die From A Broken Heart" has somewhat divided opinions at #TEAMw21 Towers for one reason alone and that is for the inclusion of a male backing vocal. It's a perfectly serviceable cover in all other respects but when it comes to the chorus and Poppy is singing
"How does he sleep at night?" it seems a little odd to hear a male voice echoing her words.
In truth it is a minor quibble that in no way detracts from quite how good this EP is. For a debut EP there is plenty here for everyone and it is certainly confirmation of Poppy Fardell's arrival as a player on the UK scene.