The grey has faded, so it’s into deeper waters for Ash‘s guitarist, clocking up her second solo album in 10 years with the band.
Anyone expecting a second helping of powerfully upbeat pop will be in for a check though, as this explores Hatherley’s experimental tendencies. Production duties fall again to ex-Captain Beetheart member Eric Drew Feldman, this time with the help of Ben Hillier, extractor of subliminal moments from Blur, Elbow and Depeche Mode.
So far so good – but the problems begin with the music itself. A lot of The Deep Blue meanders pleasantly enough, but passes straight in one ear and out the other with little approaching a distinctive melody to grab on to.
Nice atmospheric whooshes abound, as if William Orbit had been dragged into the studio briefly, but these often place the singer in a huge bath of ambient sound. Worst offender is Be Thankful, whose awkward lyrics and melody clash over a lush, sub-Cocteau Twins production.
I Want You To Know does likewise, with Hatherley’s nicely toned voice not strong enough to be fronting musical textures of such depth. Add this to the oddly conceived chorus (“I feel like a Chinese burn on top of you”), and you get the picture as the influence of Kate Bush hovers into view. Bush also looks down on the big final track, a mini-suite of ambitious proportions that never fulfils its potential, lacking a sense of direction.
It’s something of a relief when Very Young kicks off its shoes and rocks, the first burst of real energy on the album and the nearest thing to a conventional song. But even this suffers from the lack of a really distinctive hook line, despite some enjoyably layered vocals and rollicking bass drums.
It does at least confirm that to her credit Hatherley is far from predictable, allowing herself time to experiment also in Roll Over (Let It Go), its softly-softly beginning expanding into a huge wall of sound, though here again her voice almost disappears.
An unexpected songwriting credit goes to XTC‘s Andy Partridge, a hero of Hatherley’s with whom the reverie Dawn Treader was penned. It’s the best song on the album, relaxed and natural, and It Isn’t Over follows in the same vein.
But it�s not enough to save the record as a whole. For all its upward looking optimism and occasional daring, the sum of the parts simply doesn’t add up. Hatherley’s laudable urge to experiment, and concern at retaining full creative control is given too much free rein here, at the expense of something truly memorable.