“In Front of Us” – Ali Sperry

4 stars (out of 5)


I love an album that doesn’t give up all of its secrets at once; an album that makes you work a little bit (or a lot) to uncover its secrets. At first listen, Ali Sperry’s “In Front of Us” is a shiny, glittery production that tips over into pop territory with thunderous eighties floor toms, close-miked vocals and layer upon layer of harmony throughout the album. The album shimmers and sparkles with acoustic and electric guitars and arrangements that feature strings (including the often-neglected viola) and virtually every iconic keyboard in the history of pop music (Hammond, Fender Rhodes, Farfisa, Wurlitzer, Mellotron and Moog). The production is stunning and it’s easy to focus on that to the detriment of the lyrical messages of the album.

After a few listens, you get behind the shiny, happy production and into the real meaning of the songs. On the surface, many of the album’s ten songs are, on the surface, fairly simple stories of life in the music business or little autobiographical nuggets. The title song, which closes the album, is a heartfelt and gentle song about lifelong commitment and what it ultimately leads to, given a darker edge by the by the background of the pandemic. “Safe”, with its lovely strings (including that viola) opens enigmatically with a general promise to protect someone from the ills of the world before hinting at the song’s genesis, which was the shooting at a Las Vegas music festival in 2017 and the culture of gun ownership in the USA; the personal is the political.

“I Know You’re Scared” is built around the familiar songwriter’s theme of advice to a young or unborn child; ‘why would anyone want to be born into this?’ but gains another meaning when you discover that it was started on January 5th 2021 and finished on January 6th 2021 as the baying mob was storming The Capitol. There’s another theme running through the lyrics of the album, the music business archetype. “Climber” skewers the opportunist who uses people for as long as he needs them, “Excuses” exposes the person that we are always making excuses for, but who keeps screwing up anyway, while “Lucy” and “Cool Under Pressure” feature much more sympathetic portraits of an idealist and a true professional respectively.

As well as the striking and powerful arrangements, the album has another powerful weapon to help the delivery of the songs; Ali’s striking voice. She doesn’t need to force anything at all. At the higher end of her register, she sounds pure and clear and at the lower end, she sounds richer and a lot like Karen Carpenter. With the close-miked vocal high in the mix it sounds intimate, even against fairly busy instrumental backdrops.

The seductive Laurel Canyon instrumental arrangements and vocals on “In Front of Us” and the Eagles feel of the harmonies are powerfully contrasted with the almost subliminal political messages, making the messages all the more powerful because they have to be discovered by the listener. It’s a very rewarding feeling.

“In Front of Us” is released in the UK on Friday March 11th.

Here’s a live video of the opening song “Climber”:

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