How Big How Blue How Beautiful
Lucy Spraggan must surely have been the least generic final contestant in the history of The X Factor.
Having won a standing ovation from the studio audience at her audition singing her own song, Last Night, the Buxton singer-songwriter proceeded through the show refusing to sing cover versions and performing only self-penned material. She looked set fair to win, too, until ill health forced her to drop out halfway through the series.
That same sense of headstrong individuality defines her debut major-label album. Join The Club is a collection of warm, witty and idiosyncratic vignettes of everyday life, which Spraggan renders in a halting, winning Derbyshire accent over acoustic guitar and sprightly folk-pop.
Spraggan is a natural storyteller, and many of these winsome narratives would work as short stories. Tea And Toast, which moved some X Factor audience members to tears, is the tale of a stoic, noble man whose mother died in childbirth; Mountains emanates from a chance meeting with an 83-year-old woman who has lived life long and hard. She even turns her hand to rap on You’re Too Young, a song that would have fitted snugly on the soundtrack to Plan B’s urban-deprivation movie, Ill Manors.
Her songs are frequently autobiographical. In A State recalls a whirlwind romance with a woman that Spraggan met in the audience at a US show and travelled across 23 states with; Let Go aches with the subsequent pain of being dumped. Former single Lighthouse describes her relief at leaving The X Factor and returning to real life, “Where the streets are paved with stone”.
As an album, Join The Club is quirky, uneven and occasionally a little gauche. Yet it’s a million miles away from the standard-issue over-emoting schmaltz of The X Factor – and it marks the arrival of a genuine talent.