Dutch sometime demo vocalist Caro Emerald’s debut album Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor, with its lyrics entirely in English, had spent more than half a year at Number 1 on the Dutch charts – beating the record established by Michael Jackson‘s Thriller – long before her music finally crossed that pesky barrier known as the English Channel. When finally it did, it soundtracked myriad BBC Radio 4 and BBC TV idents, secured a spot on Strictly Come Dancing (she sang That Man) and – at last – was mentioned in more than a smattering of UK music publications. With some notable exceptions, the reticence of music journalists on this island to cover new artists from mainland Europe is, in 2011, almost a parody of itself. Still, better late than never.
Because here was the lady known to her parents as Caroline Esmeralda van der Leeuw on stage at a packed Shepherd’s Bush Empire, sporting an assortment of ravishing costumes and fronting a tightly paced, internationally constituted band of brass, accordion, guitar, bass, drums, decks and synths, lining up hook-laden hit after hook-laden hit. Behind them, each song’s title appears on the wall with its own retrographic imagery, sometimes animated, sometimes not. The graphics, along with Caro Emerald’s look and sound, suggest she’s of a world yet to hear of The Beatles or anything that followed them. Instead, inspiration comes mainly from the ’50s and further back still, taking in everything from the doop to mambo, via big band swing to lounge, with a scratch of vinyl here and there bringing about a surprisingly effective twist of contemporarisation.
Her curio cover of Lady Gaga‘s Bad Romance is left on the cutting room floor in favour of Christmas single You’re All I Want For Christmas. For the couples in the room it’s a genuinely old school romantic moment and fits neatly into a set whose lyrics observe at men, love and loss from a worldly and confident female perspective.
In such a consistent set as this one, polished as it is from a lengthy period of development, picking highlights is just about impossible. That Man, the first song Caro and her team wrote and recorded, is evidently dear to her – before it, she tells us, she was “just a demo vocalist”, and her performance on it persuaded the production team to put her conservatoire-trained voice at the centre of a whole album. Dr Wanna Do misses the album’s female backing vocals, but Back It Up and You Don’t Love Me trot along at a compulsive pace and are even better live than on the record. The Other Woman sports an atmosphere somewhere between Amy Winehouse and Ennio Morricone with a guitar line surely straight out of a soundtrack. And I Know That He’s Mine, a slower number, reminds of the updated tango work of Gotan Project.
To see this set in a ballroom – Brockley’s listed Rivoli Ballroom, for instance – and have space to dance would be a treat indeed. As it is, the sardine-packed audience does its best to happily tap and shimmy for the most part, until encore closer Stuck ramps both the volume and tempo up and leaves the audience in thrall for more. Given her album was released in her homeland some two years ago, their hopes would be well rewarded with a follow-up.