by kieran cannon (@kiercannon)
Burlington singer-songwriter Caroline Rose is virtually unrecognisable as the same star of the show from I Will Not Be Afraid and America Religious. Turning conventional wisdom on its head, her career progression into 2018 – according to an interview with Rookie Mag – is marked by a hefty dose of ego-dismantling and less of a desire to be taken too seriously, a refreshingly blithe approach which is often overlooked and underappreciated as an artistic quality.
On her latest release, LONER, it’s out with the old and in with the new. Gone are the obvious country/roots-rock sensibilities and in their place – well, near enough everything else. This latest output demonstrates her refusal to conform or stick to one genre for too long and as a result, she has avoided being pigeonholed as simply “another folk singer”. If the album art wasn’t a dead giveaway (smoking an entire pack of cigarettes with a vacant expression, post-workout), you can expect heaps of wry humour and plenty of sardonic mockery.
The title of opening track More of the Same couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s apparent from the opening salvo of staccato organ that this is unlike anything we’ve heard before from Caroline Rose; in fact, the only real indication you’re listening to the same artist is her distinctive, piercing vocals. Here, she mulls over feelings of disillusionment as she loses faith in people, in ideals she once looked up to – as if the rug has been pulled out from under her.
By no means is this markedly melancholic start a reliable indicator, though. The rest of the album benefits from plenty of injections of derisive humour and lightheartedness, particularly on numbers like Money where she fires off consumerist critique to the tune of groovy blues guitar. Same, too, goes for Soul No. 5 – so named because it has been through five different iterations, eventually ending up (after advice from co-producer Paul Butler to just “take the piss out of it“) as an immensely danceable slice of pop-rock.
Since taking over the reins of producing, Rose has managed to merge the tracks together with a cohesive sound which is ultra-slick yet sharp-edged. That being said, one or two tracks – particularly Cry! and Talk – have a tendency to wash over you when you’re listening to the entire record as some of the arrangements begin to teeter on the edge of becoming formulaic.
Worry not, though – your attention will immediately be grabbed again by tracks like Bikini, a fiery blast of feminist punk the likes of which Kathleen Hanna would be proud. It’s very much an emphatic ‘up yours’ to the unrealistic, highly sexualised standards expected of female artists by music executives. Jeannie Becomes a Mom checks out this idea of failing to live up to what society expects of you through a different prism; an amalgamation of stories about her friend’s unintentional pregnancy and her own anxieties.
In many ways, this record encapsulates several different struggles we all undoubtedly face at some point in our lives – feelings of loneliness and anxiety about living up to expectations, but also a certain level of detachment from the world around us. While her previous output has been rightly lauded for its earnestness, it’s a breath of fresh air to see she’s now adopted a much more shoulder-shrugging, defiant approach. It’s not that she doesn’t give a shit anymore – it’s more a case of her discovering new ways of dealing with these problems. Armed with straight-faced sarcasm and a willingness to deploy her vast array of vocal techniques for effect, Caroline Rose simultaneously ridicules and manages to be uniquely relatable. Along the way she stalls once or twice, as would be expected of any artist who takes such a drastic change in creative direction; however, there are more than enough moments of sheer, unadulterated fun on this album to look past it.