There’s a strong argument that pop music is cyclical. Stylistic change is inevitable in order for the products survival. Yes, we use the word product deliberately - forget the idea of music as a pure art form, once it’s offered up for sale it’s a product as much as cans of baked beans are.
The latest fashionable sound ‘goes out’ rather than ‘wears out.’ It’s why recently you may have noticed an opinion shift in the media and some blogs whom in the past have gurgled with dizzying excitement about the emerging waves of colourful female pop stars, but now offer a weary yawn for the next girl-wave hitting our headphones. After Florence, La Roux, Lady Gaga, Lily Allen, Ellie Goulding and Marina & The Diamonds, there’s a sense of ‘not another one,’ every time another new potential lady pop starlet is unleashed on the world – a sign of one stage of the cycle beginning to end perhaps? Of course female is a sex not a genre, but in a very male dominated industry, females are often marketed and treated as a genre, leading much of the non-thinking public to define these acts by the same generalisations.
So whilst the cynics huff and puff every time a new act – be it Florrie, Sunday Girl or MNDR – arrives on the scene, the music industry continues to push female pop girls from the perspective of what it sees as a ‘genre’, because just like the skinny jeaned boys with guitars a few years back, major labels can still have commercial success with these artists – even if there’s a distinct possibility that it’s a law of diminishing returns, creatively at least. Witness the transition from The Strokes, to The Libertines, to The Pigeon Detectives. Over saturation of the market and the requirement for change will find that at some point the tide turns for the pop girls, with only the most creative - those willing to embrace the change - able to survive.
Which brings us to Walthamstow’s Spark - real name Jess Morgan. She’s another brave pop wannabe who we’ve featured a number of times on Breaking More Waves since back in June. If pop music is cyclical then certainly Spark is evidence in point. With initial releases on small boutique pop labels (single Revolving is due on Neon Gold in November) before a major release on 679 records, her route to mainstream accessibility is taking the same strategy as label mate Marina & The Diamonds last year. It wouldn’t surprise us if we see a fair build up in publicity leading into 2011 for Spark – the BBC Sound of List could well be a target.
But for all of this talk of marketing strategies, product survival and lazy genre definitions, the most important thing – the one thing that matters above all else – is the answer to the questions - “Is the music any good? Does Spark engage with people? Does she have the talent and the songs?”
Stepping on to stage at Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen dressed all in white Spark looks like a street-girl painter and decorator ready to answer our question. Yes she is talented, yes she can sing, and yes she’s got a bunch of songs that can deliver her some mainstream success if things go her way. What she doesn’t have yet though is any core emotional resonance. This is well drilled polished pop music, with a hint of soul and drama, but there’s no huge passion, nothing that fully pulls at the heartstrings. Of course the same could be said of much music in the charts. It doesn’t have to be life changing and deep, sometimes to entertain is good enough. From her innocent marionette jerky poses during the infectious schoolgirl Paloma Faithisms of Revolving, to the opening Blondie-esque pump of Shut Out The Moon, to the lovely melodies and quasi-operatic “Oo-oo-oo,” hook on Damage Done, there’s certainly enough here to give pleasure.
With these songs Spark is hardly likely to change the world, but she might just make someone’s day a little brighter. That will do for now.