Album Review, Rox, "Memoirs"

The year is 2009 and Amy Winehouse, after stumbling upon a winning formula of retro-cutesy blues n’ soul, sung by a London girl with a "Black" voice, is stumbling around too drunk and stoned to make the most of it.

The search is on for an act to cash in on the formula before it becomes defunct, and – phew! – they think they've found it in Rox Tataei, the 21-year-old progeny of a Jamaican mother and Iranian father.

While Amy has the "Black" vox, Rox has that too, plus a few other "Black" things, like dark skin and frizzy hair. She is pretty too, although a little big boned. Not nearly as iconic as Amy, but they feel they can work with that and help the girl find her "own" style – maybe something along the lines of a Civil Rights icon/ glamour model thing, or, if that doesn't work, a proto #BlackLivesMatter campaigner with a hipster sensibility.

Despite the image problems, the record biz decides to get behind her and pull out the stops. The girl is styled and coached. Her debut single No Going Back comes out – all puffed up beats, girly-stoic broken heart warbling, and neat retro touches. Listeners on Radio One, catching just the voice, suspect that Ms. Winehouse may be out of rehab.

The media have also gotten the memo. Rox is "tipped for success" and mentioned as "an act to watch out for" in 2010 by the Guardian, Sunday Times, and Independent, among others. She gets lots of airtime and slots on shows – the usual push that happens when strings have been pulled behind the scenes.

After allowing a buzz to build for a few months, her debut album Memoirs is launched in June 2010, with various producer creds, including Jay-Z, meaning he must have twiddled at least one knob. Compliant journalists throw in the lines that are expected. The NME even goes overboard, in the process highlighting the all too obvious strategy, calling the record "Back to Black, this time with feeling."

But this is the problem. The record is simply a reasonably talented product of London multiculturalism, parading around in Ms. Winehouse’s sonic shoes, with all-too-obvious "co-written" rips-offs like the bouncy I Don't Believe and the sassy My Baby Left Me, both done more or less as a record company exec would imagine Amy Winehouse doing them, and therefore too safe and twee. Amy's appeal had a lot to do with just how fucked up and vulnerable she was. Memoirs by contrast comes across as comfortable karaoke with an SJW image on the package.

Despite the big push, the record peaks just inside the UK top 100 and, promo money well and truly flushed down the drain, the poor girl is sent off to work the salt mines, presumably eking out an existence as a club singer. Amy meanwhile pops her clogs, making further attempts to rip her off look like body snatching. The moment is gone and forgotten, but at least Rox’ll have Memoirs to remember it by.

Revenge of Riff Raff
10th March, 2016

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