Album review: Gabrielle Aplin – Phosphorescent
Esther Humphries reviews Gabrielle Aplin’s new album, Phosphorescent.
Gabrielle Aplin’s fourth studio album Phosphorescent is a raw and honest exploration of isolation, regret, resilience and hope.
Since rocketing to success at the age of just twenty with her cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “The Power of Love” in 2012, Gabrielle Aplin has released four albums as well as several extended plays. Her new album Phosphorescent, released through her own independent record label, Never Fade Records, after leaving Parlophone Records in 2017, recently reached number 1 in the independent album charts and was the highest new entry in the official album charts.
Aplin has openly talked about the album as a product of the pandemic but is careful not to label it a lockdown album. Instead, she defines it as “an antidote to the years of connection being digital”. Rather than making a conscious effort to produce new music, Aplin used the pandemic to write songs solely for herself which later developed into Phosphorescent. Aplin herself describes the album as “a time capsule of that [pandemic] time. Everything was written in the same space, here [her Somerset home], and recorded in the same space [Mike Spencer’s studio].”
Opening with “Skylight”, Aplin introduces listeners to the album’s recurring themes of stasis and confinement. Aplin sings “Stuck in a haze / Couldn’t be better / It’s all I ever wanted / Let’s stay here forever”. Despite themes of immobility and stillness, it is clear that these are not hopeless states. Aplin’s high vocals and vocalisations soar above the instrumentation with a daydream-like quality.
Confinement, throughout the album, is not viewed in a definitively negative way. It is overcome in many ways, whether through the physical image of climbing through a skylight, or through human connection as in the song “Good Enough”: “You take me to places that I’m too scared to go to / Miles away in the same old room.”
Yet, one of Aplin’s most emotional songs on the album, “Mariana Trench”, explores the feelings of deep depression and hopelessness experienced by many during the pandemic. In the first verse Aplin sings, “What the fuck am I even hearing on the news? / I can’t remember the last time we met, and I miss you / Oh, I just wanna run away, but I can’t even move / I don’t know how we get through the shit that we do, but we get through.” These intense feelings of despair are examined throughout the song to lead listeners to admire what Aplin describes as “the power of human resilience”, ending with the hopeful reminder that “we get through”.
Throughout the album, themes of change, growth and personal development are presented as the products of this period of isolation and confinement. Reflection and inner questioning are explored in songs such as “Never Be The Same” and “Good Enough”. In “Don’t Know What I Want”, Aplin expresses this idea of self-improvement singing, “I swear I’ve changed, I’ve improved myself / Maybe you’d never tell but I’ve really learned.”
Themes of change, growth and personal development are presented as the products of this period of isolation
For Aplin, the album was a “kind of homecoming to self […] It’s a reflective album. […] So I found myself writing about regrets, about things I did and didn’t do”. Aplin’s reflection includes looking back on missed opportunities and past mistakes in songs such as “Wish I Didnt Press Send” and “Mariana Trench”. In “Anyway”, she sings deploringly, “We’d all have a chance / If the hindsight I have / Could be mine in advance”.
Phosphorescent’s raw song writing and honest lyrics evidence the emotional turmoil of the past few years. In “Call Me”, Aplin reflects on relationships drifted apart and turned sour, mistakes made, regrets and faults. Aplin sings of a conflict between loneliness and isolation and yearning for human interaction, warmth and unity. The song speaks to our innermost insecurities and paranoias: “you probably hate me now / But if you don’t somehow, call me”.
This struggle between personal connection and detachment can be traced throughout the album. “Take It Easy” and “Wish I Didnt Press Send” explore the themes of leaving and parting, while themes of dissociation and unbelonging can be found in “Half in Half Out.”
Phosphorescent closes with a hopeful optimism in the song “Don’t Say”. Reflecting on the long road of recovery in cases of deep pain and emotional difficulties, Aplin affirms, “The only way out is through”. The song closes to the repetitive post-chorus of “I can feel it / I’m getting better, I can feel it / Already I’m feeling better, right / I’m getting better now”.
While produced in response to such a specific phenomenon as the pandemic, Aplin’s Phosphorescent is indeed not a lockdown album. Exploring universal struggles of loneliness and isolation, Aplin finds human connection in spite of confinement and hope in the face of despair.