The Philosophy Tree
(Whatever It Takes)
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2005, Volume 12, #3
Written by T.J. Simon
On her debut The Philosophy Tree, Ellie Lawson joins the fray of British singer-songwriters pouring out their hearts over a series of repetitive drum loops. Her sound is more dance-music based than Dido, but it lacks the guitar-driven punch of Jem or the addictive gloom of Portishead. Ultimately, however, the disc is an unobjectionable affair that differs little from other artists following the exact same formula.
That said, The Philosophy Tree has two majestic tracks that deserve to be radio singles. The first is the thick, urban groove of Gotta Get Up from Here, which already is a hit in the U.K., and the other standout number is Bigger Than You Ever Imagined, a tune that mashes Celtic, hip-hop and classical elements to form a delicious multi-layered trip, reminiscent of Loreena McKennittís The Mummerís Dance. Vocally, Lawson mimics the sound of Alanis Morissette, particularly on Open Up the Door and Down with You, and she consistently is in fine voice whether sheís belting out radio-friendly pop or dropping accented raps within the songs Friends and Why the Fighting.
As for the rest of The Philosophy Tree, it is inoffensive, though that also means that it isnít particularly adventurous. From the tepid ballad Never Be the Same to the Latin-flavored misfire Hour of Need, Lawson desperately requires a producer who is willing to sacrifice studio polish for innovative experimentation. Too many of the tracks, including 999 and Inside Out, veer into dance-oriented, bubblegum territory, and a bit more thought into the underlying percussion surely would have paid dividends. The notable exception is the Portishead-inspired Get Whatís Mine where the groove serves as a means for bringing the song to life.
Of course, Lawson isnít alone, and the problems that plague The Philosophy Tree are the same ones that continue to undermine pop music in general. Too often, originality is sacrificed for presumed greater commercial exposure, yielding an endless stream of indistinct endeavors and a widespread reduction in album sales. It remains to be seen as to whether Lawson can break free from the formula that currently confines her work. She certainly has the talent. The question is, however, does she have the will to become something more than just another cog in the corporate wheel?
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box