Single Review: Gabriella Cilmi – ‘Defender’

As you may remember from my review of The WANTED’s debut single ‘All Time Low’, the music industry is highly influenced by what is Now; what is selling; what is ‘in fashion’. And that if you don’t fit that fashionable sound or aesthetic, you’re very much done for because us consumers are extremely judgmental when it comes to what we listen to. Don’t deny it, we are: if we weren’t, we’d have bought ‘Bi-On-Ic’, wouldn’t we?

Unfortunately for Gabriella Cilmi, ballads are out of fashion.

Name the last proper ballad that last topped the charts? Hmm? One that wasn’t helped by being a huge charity single? So that rules out ‘Hero’ and ‘Everybody Hurts’. My records date it back in 2008, being Leona Lewis’ ‘Run’, which you can’t say was unassisted in more ways than one. Since then, the charts have taken a major steer towards to an upbeat, dancier sound that I defy you to say wasn’t influenced by the onslaught of dance-/electropop females that ruled the chart in 2009 – Lady GaGa, La Roux, Little Boots, Alexandra Burke, Pixie Lott and Cascada. Then everyone in the music business who lacked any form of musical knowledge though that rather than try to go their own way, they’d just copy what’s going hot – Taio Cruz, Jay Sean, JLS, etc. and it nose-dived the quality of the charts because people were doing something that had already been done, rather than do something that was there own.

Gabriella Cilmi is one of those people who clearly does have a bit of knowledge about music. But anyhow, it seems Miss. Cilmi has an uphill struggle with this release, and since her last single ‘Hearts Don’t Lie’ stalled at a criminally underappreciated #134, she’s not exactly on everyone’s mind right now.

‘Defender’ has a hypnotising opening few bars, with the sonic, futuristic sound we heard on her first two singles from her sophomore album ‘Ten’ still managing to shine through without ruining the gentle, warming chord progression. Then, Gabriella starts to sing in her soft-as-a-feather falsetto, and being Gabriella first ballad to be released as a single here in the UK, she’s not half amazing.

Then bridge that takes you to the choruses are just beautiful, not in a long time have I heard a ballad – or any song for that matter – where the lyrics go past the bog-standard “look how bad my love life is” drivel and sound like someone in the song-writing department actually has thought through what the listener will feel and what they will draw from the lyrics, sung with stunning clarity and emotion from the Aussie songstress.

“I know that you’re strong/When the tables have turned, you’ll be there by my side/But if they wanna break us… well just let them try”, a beautiful couplet that leads onto the powerful second chorus which provides the huge punch and lifts the song above any ballad to come off the Excrement Factor, whilst not ever coming across as forced or unnatural.

I love the way Gabriella’s put some thought into her vocals too – with the first verse and chorus being sung in dainty falsetto, but then becoming more powerful in somewhat fierce thereafter. Her signature mature vocals guiding you through the rest of the song, never putting a foot wrong and leading into an even bigger second chorus. Exquisitely mature and grown-up, it manages to miss the net of not sounding credible or half-complete.

All in all, the song is brilliant. I like the way the falsetto changes into Gabriella’s deeper tones; I like the sonic, epic-sounding production; I like the military-style drums that back-up the idea of being a “defender”; and I really like the fast-paced lyrics sung over the chorus towards the end.

The video isn’t one of those where it’s completely depressing either: there’s no self-hatred, no wandering about, aimlessly pensive, no fallacious imagery or facial expressions. It is a beautifully inspirational and entirely unique video.

Given the current state of the charts, I fear this, like ‘Hearts Don’t Lie’, is going to fade into the abyss of somewhere below #100, but if there’s a ballad released this year that deserves success, this is it – for all it’s pleasing commerciality, and the way it would fit like a silk glove onto both Radio 1 and Radio 2’s playlists, I feel the fact ballads are considered ‘out of fashion’ may stop this wonderfully mature song ever achieving the Top 10 success it’s brilliance warrants.

Rating: 4.0 STARS

Download: August 23, 2010

Featured Album: ‘Ten’

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1 Comment

  1. Gerard McGarry

    I saw her On A Mission video last night and it reminded me that the follow-up sank without a trace. So this is the next track?

    What strikes me is that the amount of promotion a record company puts into a record is indicative of how much esteem they hold the artist in. Gabriella is clearly being treated like a middle-tier commodity. I don’t think they expect massive things from her, but that she can certainly turn a profit. So keep releasing the singles, but don’t sink too much money into promotion.

    Defender – and this is a first impression opinion – owes a lot to the Ryan Tedder school of balladry. Bleeding Love, Battlefield, Halo and the Kelly Clarkson one that sounded just like Halo. Sparse on the instrumentation, big on vocals with a hard drum driving things forward like a funeral march. I want to like, honest I do, but it feels like Gabriella showed her strongest hand with On A Mission.

    That’s not to say that Defender isn’t a good song – it’s virtually everything you said in your review: mature, thoughtful, emotional. Gorgeous voice. Beautiful girl.

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