Mr SoulCuts has been following Princess Freesia’s evolution with a mixture of fascination, puzzlement and excitement. Her work with Soulpersona, particularly the ambitious concept album, The Lapdancer, marked her out as a stalk-worthy talent while the release of her ‘prequel’ collection, The HOXXXY Demos earlier this year further piqued our interest with its engaging snapshot of the nascent artist honing her skills and finding her voice. With the release of her proper debut album on Digisoul, The Rainbow Ride, Princess Freesia’s artistic vision comes to fruition via the most original, beguiling, fulfilling and mind-bending album of 2012.
Almost ten years in the making, The Rainbow Ride has all the hallmarks of a labour of love. It’s as complete an artistic vision as an evolving artist could hope to make on a debut album, displaying maturity in the songwriting, performances and production seldom found on contemporary soul releases. There’s no pandering to trends, no cynical, marketing led compositions or dumbing down to cross markets and bolster sales. For once, the listener is treated with respect and intelligence. The Rainbow Ride is at once highly accessible and enigmatic, its dichotomous strands satisfying both the mind and soul. Freesia’s sense of melody, lyrical hooks and nagging grooves immediately envelop the listener in the album’s impeccably woven textures while complex, intricate arrangements and playful yet poetic lyrics compel rewinds.
The album kicks off with the effervescent disco stomp of Freesia, delicately drawing the listener in via subtle, shimmering keys that dissolve into a thumping bass-fueled disco groove, replete with an intoxicating (sorry, inHOXXXicating), intricate and indefatigable arrangement. Freesia’s vocals here, as across the entire project, are nothing short of stellar. She handles all background duties herself, underlining a singular and iconoclastic vision that permeates throughout The Rainbow Ride from the glossy grooves of the aforementioned Freesia, the warmth of Gonna Be Alright and the call and response tuxedo-funk of Taffeta, right through to the stretched out sensuality of Thinkin’ About You and unabashedly sexual and hilarious Playgrind.
The Rainbow Ride is lyrically compelling and inventive: playful poetry nestles alongside straight-ahead vocal hooks, while seemingly throwaway comedic lines and innuendo provide delicious bite to the deeper meaning behind many of the lyrics. Hooks such as, ‘The Rhythm is a ransom for your love’ and ‘Oh, it’s the Freesia! The Freesia are coming to please ya!’ immediately squirrel their way into the listener’s subconscious while more abstract and surreal lines such as the the infathomable ‘Cookie dough bakes a nice gateau’ necessitate further listens, as one tries (often unsuccessfully) to decipher Freesia’s world. The stream of consciousness outpouring evidenced on Freesia even brings to mind Burrough’s infamous cut and paste writing technique. But, regardless of the accuracy of such affected literary comparisons, Freesia’s dedication to move far beyond the traditional ooh baby baby lyrical content of her contemporaries (not that she really has any) sets her apart as an artist respectful of her audience’s intelligence and brave enough to challenge traditional preconceptions as to what constitutes soul music in 2012, both lyrically and musically.
Princess Freesia manages to coalesce the erotic with the comedic on hedonic songs that recall Leon Ware in their unctuous sensuality, but retain a fresh and contemporary edge via the innovative use of quasi-hallucinatory innuendo. It’s testament to Freesia’s control as a vocalist that she’s able to make lines such as ‘Cause if the garden is right, there’ll be a seedling in sight’ sensuous and playful without falling into Carry On lechery. The greatest example of this intertwining of the sexual and comedic can be found on Playgrind, which reaches its apothesis in the song’s rap section:
Punch in the code, I’m workin’ ya to unload that probe
I’m in battle mode, sink into abyss with a captain kiss
It’s cataclysmical, exhibitional
The vessel veers n votes n vies
My thighs, he found a, bull’s eye, gotta bomb, gotta blow
It was leakin’ lappable liquid from the get go
I tell the skipper grab a rope and tow
Cause to get wet you gotta jet the turbulent flow
For an old perv like Mr SoulCuts, this is just so much nectar!
On a more series note (calm down, Mr SoulCuts!), it’s worth stating that Freesia handles all production chores on The Rainbow Ride, somehow coalescing her wild imagination and emotional outpourings with intricate arrangements that attest to a pedant’s attention to detail. The grooves and arrangements are tightly wound and warrant comparison with trailblazing producers such as David Frank and Omar (check the instrumental, The Different Sounds). The attention to detail across all elements of the album is dizzying. It’s a wonder that Freesia managed to pull herself out of the rabbit hole to release the album, and a testament to her development as a producer. Indeed, while Mr SoulCuts’ interest in her future progression as an artist is assured, I’d also be fascinated to hear her produce other artists.
While The Rainbow Ride functions beautifully spinning away in the background (perhaps as the mellifluous soundtrack to nocturnal gyrations), it deserves a deeper listen and pays dividends for those willing to invest the time. In this misguided age of 20 track meandering albums and so-called ‘special editions’ overflowing with filler and box-ticking marketing exercises, it’s a welcome change to hear a compelling release that hangs together as a single satisfying album. Yes, there are a number of tracks that stand out, but The Rainbow Ride is best consumed as a whole. There are very few artists across the soul spectrum that could produce such an undiluted yet accessible artistic vision, and while Soulpersona may have had nothing to do with the musical and production side (except for some tinkering at the mastering stage), it’s a credit to his Digisoul label (run with his brother, Tukka, who is also responsible for the striking artwork) that Freesia has been allowed to deliver such an uncompromising project. It augers well for Digisoul’s future as an artist-focused soul label unafraid to take risks.
The Rainbow Ride offers an unadulterated vision of Freesia’s world, but never succumbs to self-indulgence, thanks to Freesia’s inherently warm and open demeanour. Freesia’s ability to relay the many sides of her persona in a cohesive fashion assures the album’s universal status. The Rainbow Ride is destined to resonate with the open-minded soulful folk that have already taken Princess Freesia to their collective bosom, while opening the gates wide for the uninitiated to romp joyously through the Freesian fields in all their intense, energetic, beguiling, sensual, diverting and complex glory.
The Rainbow Ride is available to pre-order via Amazon.
Any album that causes Mr SoulCuts to bop around the kitchen in a starched apron, screaming out ‘HOXXX that Harvey Strumpet’ while thrusting his gelatinous frame with incessant might is surely a must for any soul fan!
For more information on Digisoul, please visit http://www.digisoulmusic.com/.
For all things Freesian, go to http://hoxxxy.com/.