Rumer’s third studio album, ‘Into Colour’, continues a personal path which already sounded like something out of a romantic novel. Sarah Joyce was born in 1979 north of Islamabad, where her dad was a British engineer working on the nearby Tarbela Dam (she later found out her real father was the family’s Pakistani cook). Rumer spent her twenties in a succession of bands and a variety of service jobs, interrupted by a spell in a rural commune in 2003 following the death of her mother from breast cancer. Following a succession of false starts, a chance meeting with a collaborator and a deal with Atlantic Records, Rumer began her rapid rise. The world swooned at her smoky, soothing tones, compared to those of Karen Carpenter, and the classic arrangements across 2010 debut, ‘Seasons Of My Soul’; where every song, as The Guardian put it, already sounded "like a standard". Having sold over a million copies worldwide, ‘Seasons…’ won the singer a Mojo Award, Brit nominations, and the support of such prominent musical figures as Burt Bacharach, Elton John and even Richard Carpenter himself, who wrote to offer her his “congratulations” for creating something “actually musical, which has been in short supply in recent years."
Rumer’s second album release was 2012’s ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, an eclectic collection of work originally written by 70’s male singer songwriters. A passion-project which nonetheless reached number 3 in the UK chart, ‘Boys…’ saw Rumer perform at The White House for President Obama, and led to many unexpected creative adventures with some of the legends she covered; dueting with Jimmy Webb at McCarthur Park, forming a tight songwriting partnership with Stephen Bishop, drinking late night whiskeys with Terry Reid on an impromptu tour of Scotland, and sitting under a tree in California seeking wisdom on songwriting from the mysterious PF Sloan himself. “I never thought, when we were listening to those songwriters, that I would ever in a million years get to meet them. The times we have shared together are probably the highlight of my life so far.”
The impact of her sudden success led to Rumer’s documented struggle with depression and Bipolar 2 disorder, which culminated in the final ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ sessions. She likens this time to “the end of Hamlet”, and seemed to use the sadness of other people’s songs to bury her own. “It’s as if I got through to the end of the world, to the very edge of existence, and the only other person there was Neil Young." Yet this tumultuous period proved to be the bridge to Rumer’s first new material in four years.
Having harnessed everything from two army boot camps to horse whisperer healing in the attempt at getting better, Rumer’s third album began in earnest in what is deemed to be a kind of “musical mecca”: she journeyed to Lauren Canyon. Here Rumer rented a trailer backed onto the tumbledown Spanish villa of an unconventional family of four, belonging to a child-actor-turned-inventor, his film producer wife, their children, two pot-bellied pigs, a cat, a dog and a snake. This unusual environment was to have parallels with former safe havens in Rumer's life (her childhood in Pakistan, the period living in a commune). In L.A she also reconnected with Rob Shirakbari, an American composer, arranger and producer she’d met in London, whose terrifying CV includes acting as the longtime musical director to Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick. Rumer and Rob began collaborating, sketching in the songs that would eventually form her creative and emotional breakthrough.
The resulting album, ‘Into Colour’, is the Rumer you first fell for, but in a mood you may have not heard her in previously. Musically, it’s more upbeat, sensual and hopeful, expanding the laid-back Bacharach sound to further incorporate elements of 70s Philly grooves (Thom Bell, Hall & Oates), Soul (Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye)…and even Disco. Whilst the tensions that gave depth to ‘Seasons of My Soul’ linger, it’s ultimately a silver-lining record along the theme of compassion: the sensual, soft-lit ‘Reach Out’ in fact depicts that point in depression “when it’s hard to reach someone, and when it’s hard to be reached.” It’s one of a handful of tracks to contrast love with spirituality, though for Rumer, in that rich vein of classic Soul, it’s not about a God of one faith so much as “a mystical higher power, and just wanting someone to be there for you.” The lullaby lilt of ‘Sam’, too, encapsulate the bonds of friendship, and it’s dedicated to Rumer’s ex-boyfriend – the pair split amicably during the pressures of ‘Seasons Of My Soul’, but Sam’s continual willingness to still be there for her as a friend are captured in the track’s nostalgic, Charlie Brown feel (“it does sounds a bit like Linus singing to his blanket”).
‘Into Colour’ was recorded between Arkansas, New Jersey and London’s legendary RAK Studios. Most of the rhythm section was performed live by members of Daryl Hall’s band – Rumer and Daryl met when collaborating on cult American TV show ‘Live from Daryl’s House – and also includes three co-write with ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ songwriter Stephen Bishop (known for his 70s hit ‘On And On’, and the Tootsie theme ‘It Might Be You’). And whilst there’s a more sensual, fevered feel throughout, the night-time vibe - in a first for Rumer – actually begins on the dance-floor. First single ‘Dangerous’ is a thrilling, once-bitten-twice-shy disco number, as inspired by The Bee Gees as it was Rumer’s fear of re-entering music again, having only just put her life back together. “The sheer prospect just felt dangerous to me. I had so much resistance to going back into writing and performing publicly again that I realized I wasn’t going to be able to break through it until I literally wrote a song about the resistance itself. We worked it into a love song, and the emotion just felt naturally Disco in theme.”
Elsewhere, ‘Into Colour’ is – in its own, honeyed way – more outspoken, observational and frustrated. Anger management anthem ‘You Just Don’t Know People’ may feel like a breezy ode to keeping calm and carrying on, but it’s a direct response to losing faith in friends and battling the growth of cynicism. ‘You Make The World A Better Place’ is a beautiful tribute to those professions who give to others selflessly every day, but don’t make the headlines. ‘Play Your Guitar’, meanwhile, is a quietly subversive call-to-arms for struggling musicians, and harks back to Rumer’s decade on the unsigned circuit (“It’s very difficult to create, develop, and share your art without support, in a society that is intent on extracting the soul out of everything”). Even the gorgeous, gospel-tinged ‘Blessed’ has a sting: it’s in many ways a defensive song about struggling to find happiness at a time when, ostensibly, Rumer had got the big breaks she'd always wanted. “I was railing against people telling me how lucky I am. It's hard to explain. 'Yes, I'm lucky, but not for the reasons you think. I'm lucky because I've still got my sanity and my friends.'"
In more ways than one, Rumer’s new album traces that attempt to connect and belong. With so much in common - and an obvious shared love of all things Bacharach and David - half Iranian, half American composer Rob Shirakbari was to become Rumer’s music director, producer, songwriting collaborator…and eventually, her fiancé. The pair follow in the great tradition of musical partners, from Carole King and Gerry Goffin to Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Rob and Rumer then moved to Rob’s home state of Arkansas, where they sought out the quiet to begin to record the songs on ‘Into Colour’. It proved a mellow, green area, home to both a burgeoning arts community and also the birthplace of both Bill Clinton and Walmart.
It’s this Bacharach Romance, then, which forms the backdrop of ‘Into Colour’, though it’s still a love tempered with maturity and pragmatism. The sultry ‘Baby Come Back To Bed’ is a “woman-in-her-thirties relationship song, where you can’t just walk out if you have a bad argument. It’s written from the perspective of a confident man.” ‘Pizza and Pinball’, meanwhile, is an idyllic homage to a Seventies Californian childhood, reminiscent of Vincent Guaraldi's scores for the Peanuts cartoons, but inspired by and co-written with Rumer and Rob's friend Vincent Bernardi: a fun-loving Californian rocker whose main interests are pizza, pinball and The Replacements.
Laidback, soulful and with a silver lining, ‘Into Colour’ is ultimately the journey from where Rumer was – lonely, burnt out and lost – to where she is now (and every shade in between). “When I imagined ‘Into Colour’, I didn’t know what it was, but it felt like a hopeful place to walk towards. In this record you can hear me picking through the debris, and going through each emotion. I’ve come out of it with a lot more compassion: for others people’s suffering, and also gratitude for the compassion and friendship other people have shown me.”
And so begins the next chapter of Rumer, a happier Rumer, that some voice you fell for on ‘Slow’ but cast – for the first time – ‘Into Colour’. Videos.