There’s only one thing a music critic loves more than a great new album to rave about; a really bad one to tear apart. I’ve done my fair share of album reviews in the past, but I’m a lover, not a hater. I take after my mother in that way. If there’s nothing good to say, then there’s no pint in saying anything at all. If there’s an album I don’t like, I don’t bother writing about it. I don’t like to waste my time on something that’s not worthy of it. But of course I understand that all bases need covering and every major release needs reviewing by the big music papers and magazines. Not every one is going to come out favourably.
In 1995 when supermodel Naomi Campbell took a career shift into the music industry, her ‘colourful’ personality and already high profile were always going to make her a scapegoat. By stepping out of her comfort zone, she left herself exposed to the often harsh music press. Not something she needed to do; she was already one of the most famous women on the planet. All she had to do was win them over, with an album that could prove her grit.
The signs of her having a hit album didn’t look great from the offset. The first single Love & Tears snuck into the bottom end of the top forty and disappeared without too much of a fuss. The song was dramatic ballad with influences from the middle east, complete with a moody sepia toned video. It was different to the music being put out by her contemporaries. But that was to be her USP.
The debut album Babywoman followed soon after. Whilst fans of the supermodel greeted it excitedly, it fast became an album that the music critics loved to hate. She even had the short-lived music awards the Naomi’s named after her. They went hand in hand with the Brit awards. Whilst the Brits celebrated the best the industry had to offer, the Naomi’s where their evil little brother, and gave awards out for the year’s worst music. But these were the awards that placed Jamie Cullum as the worst male singer one year, so let’s not take them that seriously.
It seemed like this critical response was always going to be the case from the mainstream media. Campbell is a love or hate kind of character, so lukewarm reviews were never going to be an option. Full disclosure before I go on, I’ve always been a lover of her diva antics and glamorous lifestyle. Like many people were at the time, I was obsessed with the supermodels. So as one of my favourite celebrity ladies, my opinion might be slightly more favourable than the average music writer (or probably any music writer).
But here’s the thing about Babywoman. It is actually a really good album. If it had been presented to the music press as an album from a newcomer and not the world’s most famous supermodel, I doubt it would have evoked the same kind of reactions. Can she actually sing? Yes. Does she have the huge power vocals of her contemporaries at the time, Whitney and Mariah. No, of course not. But I doubt they’d be able to go arse over tit on the catwalk the way Cambell does.
Could Babywoman have been a bigger success had she made a more conventional pop album? Probably so. But Campbell has never been one to make comprises. Instead she made an album that fused different sounds; pop, hip and R&B. Maybe it was a sign she hadn’t yet discovered her musical identity. But it was a bold and daring choice, that whilst may not have given her the commercial success she desired, certainly made for interesting listening.
The album artwork doesn’t suggest the kind of glitz and glamour you would expect from one of the world’s top models. Gone are the catwalks you’d expect, instead opting for a photo of her sat on a toilet, shaving her legs. The first of many bold choices for the album.
Lead single Love & Tears deserved to be much bigger a hit than it was. But undeterred, the album was released on Epic as planned. She got some big guns involved in the production of the album. Producers such as Youth and P.M Dawn should have heped with the album’s credibility. Tim Simemon of Bomb The Bass fame also gets involved on a couple of tracks. This is the man who a few years previously had launched the career of Neneh Cherry, as well as producing some of the late eighties most influential dance hits.
The second single wasn’t even as big as the first. Her cover of Gavin Friday’s I Want To Live is mixed by legendary producer Ben Liebrand. Ben fucking Liebrand! the man responsible for remixing Jeff Wayne’s Eve Of The War. He did an awesome job too. It’s dramatic and over the top, yet extremely emotive. It encapsulates the trance and club tunes that were filling both the charts and dance floors at the time. A popular song at the time, as Oakenfold and Osbourne project, Grace also recorded the song (with similar production styles) and went one step further by taking the song into the top thirty.
There are a few more well placed covers. Taking on songs by such well loved bands as T-Rex can often be dangerous. Campbell’s version of their classic Ride A White Swan has a chilled out, hippy-esque vibe that maintains the feel of the original.
Huge 90’s dance hit Sunshine On A Rainy Day, originally by one hit wonder Zoe was another well known song that Campbell decided to tackle. Yet again, it doesn’t change things up too much from the original, but is a welcome singalong song to close proceedings.
Had the radio stations got behind Naomi Campbell as a singer, then maybe she’d have had more of a chance. Clearly there was never going to be a second album, which is a shame. There’s a lot of good stuff on Babywoman and it would have been interesting to see where she would have gone next as an artist. This debut feels like she was finding her feet and experimenting with different sounds and producers.
The album certainly didn’t deserve the slaying it received. But she gave it a good go and no doubt when she looks back, she has an album to her name she can be proud of.