It takes listening to precisely five seconds of Paloma Faith’s comeback single to realise that you are already in the company of one of the best pop tracks that you are going to hear all year.
By the time it gets to the chorus of Can’t Rely on You, with its defiant stomp and backing vocals from the songs’ creator, hit-maker-in-chief Pharrell Williams, it also becomes patently clear that Faith, reinvigorated and buoyant, is set to enjoy a bumper year.
Can’t Rely on You is the lead track of her forthcoming third album A Perfect Contradiction, and her best yet: as equally upbeat and sassy as it is soulful, and with a positivity that’s impossible to resist.
The inspiration, Faith says, came from not wanting to make a record as downbeat as its predecessor Fall to Grace, which documented failed relationships to mostly melancholy, ballad-like fare.
“When I was touring the last album I got a bit bored of being upset,” Faith says. “I think sometimes when you write sad songs you write them in a moment when it’s like therapy, but then when you’re singing them 18 months later it’s like picking off a scab. This time I knew I needed to inject some hope. There’s some heartache, but it’s got a hopeful vibe to it. And I’ve returned to my soul roots, working with people I’ve admired for a long time.”
A Perfect Contradiction is an evocative title – where did that come from?
“I mean perfect contradiction in terms of the last album, because that was melancholic, but also in everyday life. You can’t have real joy without real sadness. It extends to a conversation I had with Pharrell. He was asking me about myself and I said I feel an affinity with people who are a perfect mix of contradictions. And he said ‘do you think you are?’ and I said ‘yeah’ and then he told me I should call my album that. I went home and mulled it over; I decided it was a really good title, because it meant a lot of things. It’s to do with accepting difference within ourselves as well as other people and our experiences.”
Faith worked with a host of names on A Perfect Contradiction (Raphael Saadiq, John Legend, Diane Warren) but it is inevitably the collaboration with Pharrell that is of most intrigue.
“He approached me at a party to work with me and we wrote a couple of songs together, and as we got to know each other through that time he said that he had this song that he’d written that he’d been sitting on for ages. He said he thought it would suit me, and did I want to hear it. I was like ‘of course’, and I loved it. It totally has my name on it.
“Pharrell is very nice, humble, and so likeable. He works very hard and throws a lot away, because he only wants the best to come out.” He is certainly is a happy fellow, and the go-to man for a smash hit, isn’t he? “Yes, but you want to hear the ones that don’t make it, though!”
Faith is arguably as well known for her sense of style than she is for her music, and her appearance is a vital component of the entire songstress/fashion icon package.
“For as long as I can remember I’ve had it drummed into me that presentation is important. My family is full of women who really make an effort. I’ve never been around people who just wear jeans and t-shirt.
“In fact, the other day I was walking around Brick Lane with my mum, my aunt and my cousin. This girl came up and said ‘you four look like brilliantly dressed women; can I take a picture for my art project?’ She later wrote to me on Twitter later to say ‘sorry, I had no idea it was you!’ It was so funny.”
But getting stopped in the street was partly what made Faith head across the Atlantic to make A Perfect Contradiction.
“I do get stopped a lot – it’s flattering but it’s difficult to detach yourself. Ultimately, I wanted to write an album that was down to earth and about real issues, and I didn’t feel that my life was conducive to that over here. It’s not a realistic lifestyle to have being stopped by people all the time; it doesn’t promote a realistic attitude of life. People can’t relate to it.”
After A Perfect Contradiction hits the shops in March, Faith says she can’t wait to get on the road and reinterpret the new songs for a live audience.
“We haven’t planned it yet but we’ll hopefully be touring towards the end of the year. I am looking forward to going out and touring it – it’s a musician’s album. My band love it; they can’t wait to show off, and nor can I!”
Paloma Faith’s new album A Perfect Contradiction is out March 10, on RCA Records.
‘Paloma Faith talks about her new album, hope & Pharrell Williams’ by Shaun Curran