A single-toned album that does little to differentiate its maker from many peers.
Martin Longley 2010-03-15
Last year's Lamb reunion at The Big Chill festival created an atmosphere of potent nostalgia, and a feeling that this Manchester electro-duo provides the optimum setting for the high-arcing voice of Lou Rhodes. Without wanting to appear resistant to change, there is a sense that Rhodes as a solo singer-songwriter is exposing only a single facet of the being that her old audience knows so well.
Previously, Rhodes has harnessed energy by touring with a small band, but this album finds her mostly alone, with the notable exception of massed strings brushing and swelling underneath on several songs. Lamb partner Andy Barlow acted as her recording engineer, with Rhodes in the producer's chair. The album is also the first release on Motion Audio, a new label operated by The Cinematic Orchestra.
Rhodes has distilled the singer-songwriter method down to its absolute essence, except that crucially the tunes herein aren't particularly distinctive. In a form where the song should be all, these songs are lacking. The lyrics mingle optimism and deliberate naivety, with even the downer moments coming across as exultantly miserable rather than genuinely forlorn. Rhodes is undoubtedly sincere, but maybe at the expense of potential humour and irony.
The exciting quality of yore was when this voice collided with a battlefield of electronic rupturing. Cumulatively, the songs here begin to sound too similar. The acoustic guitar becomes a magnified orchestra, with fingers skidding across the frets, taking on a rhythm-building scale. Circles has a slow-march drumbeat that imparts a 1960s hippy vibration, whilst The Ocean finds Rhodes at her most dreamy and reverb-soaked. Even with a title such as Melancholy Me she actually sounds like she's at one with her state. Here and there, a carefully restrained bass drum provides a pulse but her airily warbling voice follows an archetypal path, rather than invoking any single influence.
Everything is in extreme close-up. In this exposed state, it tends to build up a single-toned character: Rhodes has country and folk aplenty, but not much in the way of blues or soul.