Charlotte Hatherley

So, on the colours theme, Charlotte has gone from Grey to Blue between her first and this, her second, albums. Though, as she told me, she’d decided on the album pictures before the title, there’s an interesting pastel shading going on here that belies the loud rock chick image we might have had from her career with Ash.

The couple of times I’ve met with her she seems a confident, quiet and thoughtful character with a remarkable pair of long-fingered musician’s hands that have earned her ten years playing guitar for Ash. Now, on her second solo album, what does she choose to do? Well, she puts her guitar to the background and focuses on her voice, which, as an instrument, is really not her finest tool. She has drafted in Drew Feldman, ex-keyboard player for Captain Beefheart during his last three albums, the ones that had a return to form, where he was responsible for turning the good Captain’s cryptic instructions into musical reality. I’m sure Charlotte was rather more able to express what she wanted than Don Van Vliet, once reduced to shooting at Ry Cooder to get what he wanted.

The album opens with the dreamy Cousteau before moving into the first song, Be Thankful. Charlotte’s voice is treated to be more ‘little girl’, an uncomfortable sound outside the oddities of European pop. The arrangement is a complex pop assemblage, borrowing from a psychedelic edge. The production is full with incidental frills, big noises and bits and bobs. I Want You To Know is like Ash run through the sensibility of John Travolta in Grease. I’m longing for some stinging guitar and less of the vocals – does no-one in her entourage want to guide her towards her strengths? Everyone benefits from a good editor.

Songs concern love, age and loss. They drift over the themes like Charlotte has hit a time of reflection, an early mid-life crisis at twenty-eight, maybe a reaction to ending ten years with Ash. It produces songs that look back or tell stories from a remote perspctive. It’s a releief when Roll Over finally allows a bit of rocking guitar and Very Young turns the volumes up a notch. Dwn Treader, the Andy Partridge collaboration, is another dreamy affair and we are back to business as usual. I keep remembering upfront at an Ash gig, listening to Charlotte peel off riffs at blistering volume that I loved. That’s obviously not what she wants to do now and we are left, instead, with this album – pleasant, inoffensive and mild.

Ross McGibbon