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Record Rating: ***

SIMON WEBBE - GRACE Blue were one of the biggest bands to emerge on the UK charts in the beginning of this decade; but three #1 albums, 11 million records and four years later, the four unceremoniously split in 2005 to each pursue a solo career.

After the groupís demise, former member Simon Webbe surrounded himself with Londonís urban soul culture and found a new musical calling. Webbeís vocals were often overshadowed by Lee Ryanís earnest, Erasure-tinged crooning and Duncan Jamesís flamboyant vocals in his boy band. But on debut Sanctuary, he surprisingly wooed listeners with a collection of songs that displayed his poignant, yet interesting and intelligent vocals over quiet guitars and strings, and put the album into the top five on the charts. Needless to say, because of all this, he definitely put some pressure on himself for what he would present on his next release.

Grace is the quick follow-up and it becomes clear that a musical maturation has taken place. Thereís some great pop music among the twelve tracks ~ the stellar slow first single Coming Around Again, the Stevie Wonder-esque Sunshine (Love Like That) ~ and to give him credit, Webbe ventures into R&B pop and comes across hauntingly similar to singer Seal throughout. Far more enchanting than his debut, Webbe is a bit too relaxed at times, but aside from that criticism, the record is lush with harmonies and over-the-top melodies. Fool For You flows with the luxuriant vibes of a hushed vocal and a bellowing string arrangement, and other highlights include the gradually building Donít Wanna Be That Man and the moving Take Your Time.

Still, Webbe does seem aware of the danger of coming off as boy band trite, that he tries too hard to overcome it ~ and Grace ends up unfortunately short of being that rare unblemished pop release.

Read our other reviews:

Crowded House - Farewell To The World       Norah Jones - Not Too Late       Jerry Lee Lewis - Last Man Standing: The Duets       Gwen Stefani - The Sweet Escape      


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