Conventional wisdom in the music industry suggests that songwriters are far more in control of their creative and commercial trajectories than are singers that leverage a team of stellar songwriters to provide the sonic foundation for their musical careers. This might explain why boybands such as Take That (they were architects of their sonic destiny) managed to stage a comeback against all odds and make significant inroads with a second generation of fans while many of their boyband contemporaries largely clung on to a nostalgia factor to stay afloat commercially. The exceptions to this trend are the singers that are master interpreters of lyrics and a songwriter’s vision. They also have the enviable ability to manifest this vision through a distinct and inimitable vocal aesthetic. This group of singers is a precious rarity. One of its most noteworthy members is Belinda Carlisle – the former lead singer of all-girl rock band and recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees The Go-Go’s. While the Go-Go’s enjoyed tremendous success in the US, Belinda’s stratospheric rise to global fame was a by-product of a hit-heavy (noteworthy examples include “Circle in the sand”, “Heaven is a place on earth”, and “Leave A Light On”) solo career that started in the mid-80s and that carried her comfortably through the mid-90s. Despite a momentary return with the infectious single “Sun” in 2013, it appeared that Belinda was preparing for retirement. Fortunately, her decision to gracefully exit the world of pop music was stalled by what can only be described as divine intervention – in the form of a chance encounter between her son James and legendary songwriter Diane Warren. The potency of the elixir that is Belinda’s voice undoubtedly helped her circumvent the dark cloud of ageism that plagues the music industry (especially the pop music realm) and put her in the co-pilot seat with hitmaker Dianne Warren to create a new 5-track EP titled “Kismet” – Belinda Carlisle’s first collection of solo songs in over 24 years in the vein of what propelled her to stardom. As Belinda indicated in an interview with the “Rock Solid” podcast host Pat Francis, the fact that these songs were given to her as opposed to being offered to a youngster riding high on the charts today continues to be a source of wonder for her. The musically myopic might even question the commercial wisdom of that decision. One listen of “Kismet” helps crystallize the notion that Diane Warren was NOT being charitable and that she has an impeccable sense of judgment knowing exactly who can truly brings these songs to life. Listeners and fans are privileged beneficiaries of her foresight. Belinda Carlisle was undoubtedly the right singer for these songs.

The EP’s first single and stylistic red herring “Big Big Love” (which saw the light of day in March 2023) is a multi-pronged surprise. First, Belinda eschews the power-pop template of her biggest hits in favor of an up-tempo synth-driven sound with a spring in its step. The first song that came to mind when I heard this was “The Drum” by Australian singer-songwriter Josef Salvat – although “The Drum” feels minimalist in its production aesthetic relative to “Big Big Love”. Second, it is NOT the larger-than-life ballad of the sort that songwriter Diane Warren has become known for over time – with the noteworthy examples being “I don’t want to miss a thingby Aerosmith and “How do I live” performed by both Leann Rimes and Trisha Yearwood. It is a reminder that the litmus test for great songwriting is a song’s ability to translate across different musical styles or sonic treatment. Third, the song radiates with an innocence and optimism of the sort that typically erode as the life of a veteran singer and songwriter progresses. There is not an iota of being jaded in the lyrics of this song.

Stylistic deviation of the sort that was showcased on “Big Big Love” can be polarizing and might have got fans speculating about what this meant for the overall musical direction of “Kismet”. The first verse of the EP’s second track “If you go” (the first song presented to Belinda by Diane Warren for this project) might convince listeners that Belinda’s new incarnation is one rooted in a synth-driven sound. It is only when the sing-out-loud chorus begins that we see an unapologetic return to a power-pop sound that many of us have associated Belinda with. It evokes an inexplicable joy that stems from familiarity and a lingering pleasant memory of a distant musical past. The effective use of background female harmonies as embellishments on the line “If you go” in the song’s chorus are reminiscent of those in the single “Little Black Book” from Belinda’s 1991 album “Live Your Life Be Free”. The overall spirit of longing and fear of loss in the song is similar to that of Belinda’s hit single “Leave A Light On”.

The EP moves into down-tempo ballad territory on the next two tracks with the Adult Alternative tinged “Deeper into you”. The vocal delivery on this song is most reminiscent of the Belinda fans remember and love. I am on the fence as to whether this would work as a single on radio. Perhaps, in the year 2004-2008 when the Adult Alternative genre was being defined by bands such as Snow Patrol, One Republic, and for a brief moment Take That (fans might find musical parallels between their hit single “Greatest Day” and this song). “I couldn’t do that to me” (track four on the EP) is where the collection loses a little steam. Fortunately, that loss is quickly compensated for by the EP’s closer “Sanity”.

Sanity” opens with a burst of exquisite cinematic orchestration and is buoyed by fierce strokes of string arrangements through the entire length of the song as Belinda sings an ode to an anchoring force (i.e. sanity) in her life that has become conspicuous by its absence.

Never thought you’d slip away

When I needed you the most

Never thought I’d see the day

You disappeared just like a ghost

With the lines above, one cannot help but wonder whether Belinda channeled periods of her life characterized by turbulence (especially her longstanding attachment to substance abuse) into her vocal delivery.

Since this blog is part a 24/7 online radio broadcast, I cannot help but evaluate this EP based on the radio-friendliness of its songs. It is safe to say that there are at least three singles on this EP – which is VERY respectable for a 5-track EP. Some of these songs would make great additions to the upcoming leg of Belinda’s US concert tour. I would also be delighted to see Belinda do similar projects with both Rick Nowels and Gregg Alexander – two songwriters that she has worked with in the past. Everything about what made Belinda Carlisle the popstar we love is there on this EP. German-Israeli producer Mati Gavriel (who has worked with pop music heavyweights such as Debbie Harry, Dolly Parton, and The Pentatonix) has created a soundscape that allows Belinda to have one foot in the past and one foot firmly in the present.

This EP is yet another reminder that Belinda ought to postpone any ideas about retirement indefinitely since she still has it. Her multiple decades away from conventional pop/rock albums (her 2007 album “Voila” and 2017 album “Wilder Shores” are sonic experiments that deviate significantly from the template that was the catalyst for Belinda’s ubiquity in mainstream pop culture) have not eroded her ability to deliver a sonic punch just like she did when she first rose to prominence.

Last, but not least, the title of this EP could NOT be more apt. “Kismet” is an Arabic word that translates to fate or destiny. In Hindi (the national language of India), it is pronounced “Kismath”. In fact, the use of this word in Hindi is quite common when people in India reflect on the twists and turns that characterize their reality. The sentence that finds its way in these reflections is “Yeh meri kismath hai” (which translates to “this is my fate”). It is fitting that Belinda would name her EP with a word commonly used in a country (i.e. India) that she has a longstanding relationship with (there is great video footage on youtube of her driving an auto rickshaw across India dressed in a salwar kameez to create awareness for Animal People Alliance). The word also symbolizes the serendiptous reunion with Diane Warren after over three decades since they last worked together on the hit singles “I Get Weak” and the achingly beautiful “World without you”. Fans and listeners have benefited the most from this manifestation of “Kismet”. One can only hope that “Kismet” is the start of a new beginning as opposed to being the swan song of Belinda Carlisle.

STAR RATING: 4 out of 5 stars


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In case you did not pick up on this earlier, the blog you are reading is affiliated with Radio Creme Brulee – an online radio station that features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. Alongside newer artists, we also play plenty of newer music by bands that rose to prominence in the 80s,90s, and the 00s. Noteworthy examples include Simply Red, Wet Wet Wet, Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Dubstar, Tears For Fears, Duran Duran, Belinda Carlisle, Camouflage, Spandau Ballet, INXS, Depeche Mode, Suede, The Corrs, Jamiroquai, Johnny Hates Jazz, Simple Minds, and Culture Club.

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