There are moments on Ricki-Lee Coulter's new album which are a little uncomfortable. The Australian pop singer has laid out her desires plainly and graphically to the point that you feel like a voyeur, party to some very private moments. Equally, you can't turn away either because it's unashamedly sexy.
Welcome to the new world of Ricki-Lee. If you were ever in any doubt that the statuesque singer and songwriter could make a play for the pop princess crown, Fear & Freedom is a perfect manifesto.
"There are moments when you feel like you shouldn't be listening because they are a bit naughty and personal," Ricki-Lee says conspiratorially. "I was thinking of my boyfriend and singing to him for a lot of this. This album is me quite naked and there are no topics off-limits. There's power in that. I like pushing the boundaries."
The 26-year-old, who was born in New Zealand but grew up on the Gold Coast, has taken charge and she's getting a rush out of it. From the self-empowered title to the odd saucy lyric and the party-worthy singles, Raining Diamonds and the kicking Do It Like That, this is a celebration of taking back what's hers and discovering the energy to dance until sunrise.
"For many reasons, it's ultimately your fears which hold you back from achieving your dreams, doing all the things you wanted to do and being the person you want to be," the singer says. "Things like wearing outrageous clothes because other people think you should or not breaking up with that guy because you're afraid to be without him."
Since the release of her 2007 album, Brand New Day, and a subsequent recording which was shelved, Ricki-Lee has undergone a massive personal transformation. She has slimmed down, rid herself of toxic friendships and is blissfully shacked up with boyfriend, personal trainer Rich Harrison.
"In a nutshell, I realised those fears were holding me back from so much," Ricki-Lee says. "Like so many people, you feel stuck in something but are afraid to leave it. Being fearless allows you to be free of that and that has been my biggest lesson."
If you listen closely, you can hear that freedom dripping from the singer's voice as Ricki-Lee breaks her shackles in some of the most self-assured and thumping vocal performances of her career.
The song, On the Floor, is an intimate sketch of the singer meeting Harrison for the first time while the opening track, Human, is about making mistakes and not being Superwoman.
"I think these songs are a lot more believable because the words are more grounded and the most honest I have ever allowed myself to be," says Ricki-Lee, who recently replaced Jennifer Hawkins as the face of CoverGirl cosmetics in Australia.
"I've learnt to listen to my inner voice. You know when something isn't right, no matter how much you want to think otherwise. Not trusting that voice has put me in some sticky and difficult situations.
"Being a strong woman is complex," she says. "You have to go through a lot and experience plenty to become a wise woman.
"As women and as human beings we are complex and the powerful thing about music is that people can take the vocal with a great song and just dance or they can dig down for the meaning and take inspiration.
"I hope people listen to these stories and find them positive and uplifting, and that they offer some positive power to take into their own lives."Fear & Freedom is released today. Ricki-Lee Coulter appears on August 26 at Whitford City at 11.30am and at Carousel at 3.30pm.
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