Album Review: Fenne Lily – Big Picture

Some straight facts, straight from the top; Fenne Lily is a UK-born, USA-based singer songwriter. Big Picture is her third full album. It is, however, the first to be written across the breadth of a relationship, rather than as a retrospective. As a result it more accurately, more honestly, depicts the ups and downs of a real relationship. It is honest. As is Lily when she explains that ““Writing this album was my attempt at bringing some kind of order to the disaster that was 2020. By documenting the most vulnerable parts of that time, I felt like I reclaimed some kind of autonomy.”

That autonomy has been well and truly claimed. Whilst it was written in solitude in a flat in Bristol, the recording process was, apparently, Fenne’s most collaborative yet. That said, the result is not watered down by the others’ involvement – instead, the record stays true to the intimate, cosy nature of Fenne Lily’s writing.

It is true that, like a relationship, parts of this album slip by without much incident – not a huge criticism, as the record flows better for it – but then hours later you will find yourself whistling a little ditty or suddenly rushed back to a lyric like, “I guess we never really had that much in common, except the days, the nights and cold” (from lead single ‘Lights Light Up’, comfortably one of the best songs on the album).  It will stop you in your tracks and make you think, ‘yeah, that was quite good actually. I didn’t appreciate it at the time.’ (The subtext, in case it isn’t clear, is that this is also like a relationship).

And therein lies the power of Big Picture – it helps you, and you’re not going to believe this, see the big picture. Even the cover art shows the miniature collapse of a miniature home confined within a (normal sized) bell jar. It depicts a self-contained disaster as a reminder that we are small in the grand scheme of things – that just because a relationship collapses, it doesn’t mean the end of all things. As Lily puts it herself, “we’ve known only one of many possible ways to exist.”

Similarly, there are many possible ways to enjoy this album. On the surface, it is a gentle meander through ten accessible folksy tunes; get under the skin, though, and it is a quietly, subtly, devastatingly emotional record. Sometimes it pays to stay with it, to stick around and pay attention. A bit like… well, y’know.

James Beck