Since the October 2004 release of this full-length debut in her native Australia, Sarah Blasko has been working the hypothetical room. A follow-up to 2002's Prelusive EP that got her signed to Dew Process, The Overture and the Underscore was eventually released in the United States in June 2005 and in Europe three months later. She spent the latter half of 2005 opening for other graceful acts such as Ray Lamontagne and Martha Wainwright and picking up ARIA nominations for categories including Best Album and Best Female Artist. All the while collecting Radiohead comparisons.
Admittedly, Blasko is beautiful and has a voice to match. Currently in her late twenties, she's got a perfectly controlled voice that would please fans of Emiliana Torrini and the aforementioned Wainwright alike, but she doesn't sound as sheltered as either. And when she extends a note while pronouncing the short letter "a," she sings with her throat in the exact same style as Norah Jones. But she's not jazzy. She can't be - she sounds like Radiohead, remember?
Her lyrics are puzzling. And to the musician who sounds like myriad others in her nameless genre, lyrics should be what sets her apart. Unfortunately, Blasko's words are bizarrely inconsistent. I imagine she racked her brain to come up with "Beautiful secrets/ you guard them in your secret garden/ You water and nurture them until they're bigger than life itself." But then there's her most radio-friendly track, "Don't U Eva," which is very unlike Prince in sound but offers musings that suggest otherwise: "Don't u eva wish 4 just 1 thing that u might neva know?" eventually leads into "U've got a way th@ makes me feel so complic8ed/ A wall keeps u from me/ U'd raze the d%rs down jst so u can find the key/ The wolves r w8ing." It's the most beautiful text message that neva was.
Blasko's flawless but soulless voice takes center stage over a combination of drum loops, string samples, the drumming of Joey Waronker and Robert Cranny's assistance on piano and guitar-driven melodies. This combination of music and voice is like an expensive pen being showcased in glass; the glass case is easy to overlook, even if it is nicely polished, but then, what's so great about a pen? Blasko stands out because the music behind her is so simple and precise, but is her voice really interesting enough to be front and center? Everything's in the right place (no Radiohead pun intended), but Blasko sings as though she's maintaining her most attractive pose while doing so. Feel free to lend this one to your mother: The Overture and the Underscore is one of the safest records of 2005.
Discuss this review at The Prefix Message Board
Sarah Blasko Web site
Low Altitude Records Web site