Before the bottom fell out of the Britpop market, Astrid Williamson and chums achieved a modicum of success with Goya Dress. As principal songwriter and frontwoman, Williamson crafted dreamy romantic pop about love, stars and fires that appealed to fans of Suede’s early material, lace gloves, and glitter.
But the band came late to the table, the dying moments of Britpop were dominated by lad culture, and there wasn’t much room for dreampop. For those who remember Goya Dress’s one album of ethereal, cute, and oft-times moving music, Rooms, it is both good news and bad that Williamson is still plugging away. Those who don’t can switch off now.
Shetland native Astrid never really went away. But three solo albums have largely snuck under the radar, and from the outset of Here Come The Vikings, it is easy to see why. On the opener Storm, backed by a driving bass line and delivered with dramatic vocal, Williamson offers some advice: “Don’t store those heavy things so high, don’t keep those precious things so low”. The track builds to a stirring and stormy climax, but not one befitting lyrics that might be lifted from a health and safety video.
Sing The Body Electric has perhaps the most unintentionally funny (or cringeworthy depending on how generous you are feeling) opening line of any song this decade. “Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a man of iron he could build you a bridge very very well, but he only did it to impress / it’s a little known fact / a beautiful girl in a lilac dress”, Williamson informs us. That’s a fact like Katie Melua‘s Beijing bicycle count – a made-up fact. The rest of the lyrics don’t really make any more sense, and while the melody is pleasant enough, even uplifting at times, it’s not loud enough – you can still make out every single fatuous word.
Although it is easy to point out the lyrical flaws, it would be unfair not to mention Williamson’s skill with a tune. If the words awkwardly describe love or alienation, warmth or distance, the music is wonderfully evocative. Crashing Minis features soaring falsetto vocal performance, Williamson’s fluting voice cracking over a trip-hop backing of synthesised strings, sinister and strung out to creepily lovely effect. Slake is a mysterious dark and pulsing track that would not be out of place on a Bat For Lashes release. On the more sedate moments, there is a hint of Natalie Merchant about the melody and phrasing.
But the positives are too few, and Here Come The Vikings is marred by a lack of lyrical artifice. While Williamson shows moments of emulating some fine singer-songwriters, too often she comes across as sounding like many of the lesser. One gets the feeling that she’d like to sit alongside Bat for Lashes and Natalie Merchant, but she knows that the seating plan has put her with Katie Melua and Dido.