Instead of hurrying to release a sequel to her relatively mainstream soul-pop debut, Traveling Like The Light, singer/songwriter/producer/model/fashion designer VV Brown actually scrapped her second album, Lollipops & Politics, and left her record label, determined to make an album that was wholly artistic. She subsequently took the time to reinvent herself and come up with something entirely different, an operatic electronica album loosely based on the Biblical story of Samson & Delilah. It has a truly unique sound that’s much more likely to be savored by avant garde music enthusiasts than pop aficionados, as it constantly pushes musical boundaries in just about every way possible. To say that it is an experimental album would be an understatement. That much is evident from the moment VV begins singing the chilling but beautiful opening track, “Substitute for Love,” displaying vocal power and range you never would have guessed she had from listening to her debut’s hit single “Shark in the Water.”
For those who may not know, the story of Samson and Delilah is this: Samson was a vile man with seemingly limitless strength who delivered devastating judgements on the Philistines. He fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who was paid by the Philistines to discover his weakness. The first three times she asked him what the secret to his strength was, he lied to her. But the fourth time he told her the truth: that he did not cut his hair in fulfillment of a vow to God. The next time Samson was asleep on her knees, she called for her man to shave off seven locks from his head and then she betrayed him to his enemies. The Philistines took him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza where they bound him with fetters of brass and “he did grind in the prison house.”
So, whose side is VV on? That would seem to depend on the song. While the Bible would seem to favor Delilah, during the menacing single “Samson,” VV would seem to take his side, telling him to “get up and rise.” “Hold her tight, grab a sword, I’ll get you,” she sings passionately, just as she sings all of the vocals on the emotionally-charged album, meanwhile thunderous drums and electro-beats pound away.
Of course, it’s possible that not all of the lyrics on the album are informed by the Bible. You could look at it as a concept album that dissects a failed love affair. Or it could be about VV liberating herself from her former record label and the ways they presumably tried to turn her into something she wasn’t.
“Belly flop into a swimming pool of sound,” she sings during the glitchy, club-ready “Faith,” one of the album’s more uppity tracks, and that’s exactly what she’s done, leaping into a deep pool of inspiration. It’s a dark pool, to be sure, but you won’t be able to turn your attention away as she penetrates it.
Whether or not it’s Samson and Delilah’s, perhaps only VV herself knows, but love is clearly one of the things that inspired the somber ballad “Knife.” “I don’t really feel like trusting / It’s not worth it anymore,” she sings with the volume of pain you’d normally get from a great jazz singer like Billie Holiday or Nina Simone. “Like a knife overloving you / And you’re hurting me more and more.”
“Take me as I am / My master of my plan,” she insists during the deluxe edition bonus track, “Warrior,” which is actually one of the album’s most remarkable tracks with its shimmering keyboards and razor sharp, battle cry vocals set against rapid-fire beats. “Me, myself and I / We’ve been on a long journey,” she sings during the bridge. Indeed, the album takes listeners on quite the sonic trek.
It’s also worth mentioning that the standard edition of the album ends with a song entitled “Beginning,” an especially melancholic tune with sparse acoustic guitar, droning static and ethereal vocals. It starts off like a whimper but goes out with a bang as its gentle, eerie music is overcome by a barrage of manic if not hyperactive electronic beats.
Regardless of what you think it’s about, Samson & Delilah is a brilliantly cohesive and compelling listen in every way possible. Lyrically, vocally, musically — it’s exquisite all around and it’s crammed with details that reward multiple listens, giving you something new to discover each and every time you hit play. Even those who don’t enjoy the album will have to admire its spell-binding artistry.