Friday, July 2, 2010

Rose Elinor Dougall - Without Why - Advance Album Review

Rose Elinor Dougall's debut solo album, Without Why, won't be out until 30 August on Scarlett Music but I was lucky enough to get access to the album early so here's my review:

It was worth the wait!

Well, that's really the gist of what I want to say as the anticipation generated by Rose's 4 post-Pipettes solo singles was warranted; this album is every bit as good as I hoped it would be. Those of you looking for this year's "Pull Shapes" can stop reading now.

Now, that's not to slight The Pipettes but, rather, to say that Rose's time in that band is largely irrelevant to the success of this album. I guess if, like me, your favourite Pipettes track was "Judy", then you might see a connection between that band and Rose's current work but, otherwise, it doesn't have much to do with things here.

Those 4 singles -- "Start/Stop/Synchro", "Another Version of Pop Song", "Fallen Over", and "Find Me Out" -- are all here so there's not much point in writing about them again as I'd rather turn my attention to the other 7 tracks I had not heard until now.

The promotional literature's mentions of Felt and The Durutti Column say the obvious about "Come Away With Me" as the track clearly and unashamedly echoes Felt's "Primitive Painters" (with Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins), but also the sort of riffs Durutti frontman Vini Reilly plucked on Morrissey's first solo LP, Viva Hate -- think "Late Night, Maudlin Street" but shorter and with a propulsive undercurrent.

And, as much as it's a cheat to describe singers by who they sound like, in the case of Rose sounding like Liz Fraser in 1985 that's the sort of rare accomplishment that warrants a mention; what higher compliment could I pay a British female singer?

The keyboard figures and guitar lines in "Third Attempt" underlay a beautiful and simple Rose vocal performance that somehow reminded me of Mary Hopkin but with less affectation and more directness.

"Carry On" is like early Ride twisting "Stranger Than Kindness" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds into something somehow hopeful instead of something creepy.

"Don't worry my love...carry on living outside of our time..." sounds like an insult -- or faint praise? -- to someone out of step with the present. Or is it a rallying cry to singers like Rose, old fashioned for caring about songcraft in a way that few peers do?

Rose somehow manages to sound simultaneously vulnerable and still resilient here -- I think that weird mix is precisely why I am such a fan of the British singer; she's not as entirely, imperfectly removed from modernity as Harriet Wheeler seemed, and she certainly isn't the otherworldly presence that Liz Fraser was despite having just as much talent.

No, the key for me is that as I listen to someone like Rose, I can imagine the work of writing, performing, and recording happening. There's something real and old fashioned about this without the material descending into a tribute to the past.

Sure, place Rose Elinor Dougall in some kind of line from Sandy Denny to Kate Bush to Harriet Wheeler to Sarah Nixey to here but to what end?

Without Why is not so much the child of those influences but a peer; put this on after Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, or The Kick Inside, and you'll hear what I mean.

The sinister "Watching" didn't quite do it for me but that's only 1 track out of 11, eh?

And now, on to "To The Sea". This is where I get a bit cinematic but...Christ, is there any way I can talk about this song without saying that it sounds like England? As an American fan of British rock, there's something here that I can't describe. That vibe you get as an American when playing something like The Kinks' "Two Sisters", that's what I mean.

It's the moment of Black Box Recorder's "Goodnight Kiss" where those Luke Haines lyrics seem to finally praise the country he's been damning all along.

"Goodnight" is where Rose starts to sound a bit American, ironically. By that I mean that, despite the piano and violin, this track reminded me more of early Laura Nyro than anything else. There's an unfinished feeling here but it's one of intent. The song is loose and unforced, smooth and soft where "To The Sea" was sharp and precise.

And then album closer "May Holiday" comes around. The sound of the sadness behind the forced happiness of summer. It's "Here's Where The Story Ends" for a new generation. Sure, the strings provide a kind of Divine Comedy-ish bit of hope and wit, but the song mourns a present rapidly turning into future memories. Just as Neil Hannon sang on The Divine Comedy's "Your Daddy's Car", it's the sound of someone having a good time and mourning the end of it simultaneously -- that end-of-summer feeling despite the May in the title.

"In the future, what we will make of these days of ours?" Rose sings and it's the sound of someone young enough to sound like someone wise beyond her years.

Without Why is out 30 August 2010 via Scarlett Music. Check and and iTunes in the States.

For now, you can pre-order the album on

Follow Rose Elinor Dougall on My Space:

And here: