The smooth-as-silk “Stay Alive,” from British singer/keyboardist Hollie Cook, undulates to a reggae beat, and manages at the same time to feel unshackled from genre conventions. There’s something in the character of her voice, in the nature of the melody she’s singing, and in the texture of the mix that together lend a bewitching vibe to the dubby proceedings.
So, look, it’s 2018, and reggae elements have obviously been roaming far and wide in the musical world for decades. Often it comes across as pastiche but so strong is the underlying premise that, to me, it works in just about any setting anyway. What I love here, though, is how fully committed to the sound Cook remains even while bringing genuine individuality to it. I’m not explaining this well but even as, to my ears, the song sounds fully ready to be filed under “reggae” (or “lovers rock,” for you sub-genre fans), there seems a contemporary charm and mystique infusing the music that transcends a pat label. I’m especially taken in by the melodies, which somehow combine a slinky nod to spy-movie music with a girl-group insouciance, while being supported by an acrobatic bass line (that would be Jah Wobble doing his thing), a haunted-house organ, and a creative, organic horn section (sax, trumpet, trombone, in the house).
Credit here to Youth, who produced (and who by the way is now 57), and to Cook herself, whose personal lineage has landed her among some notable musical friends and relations: she is the daughter of Paul Cook, drummer for the Sex Pistols, and Jeni Cook, who sang with Boy George in Culture Club. Here on “Stay Alive” we not only get Wobble, a one-time bandmate of John Lydon in Public Image Ltd, but Keith Levene on guitar, himself a founding member of both the Clash and PiL, as well as part of the semi-legendary band Cowboys International, and many other projects since then. Cook, meanwhile, cut her own musical teeth as part of Ari Up’s re-boot of the seminal British punk band The Slits from 2005 to 2010.
“Stay Alive” is the second track on Cook’s third album, Vessel of Love, released in January on Merge Records. You can listen to the whole thing and buy it via Bandcamp. MP3 from the tasteful folks at KEXP.