An original member of retro-style girl group The Pipettes, Rose Elinor Dougall took advantage of her former band’s revolving door policy and went solo back in 2008. It’s taken a couple of years, but with her debut album, Without Why, finally landing on us, she launched it with a gig at Camden’s Barfly on this “Xfm Xposure Live” night.
Dougall begins the set with current single Carry On, its crash of guitar and dark swinging basslines owing more to Peter Hook than to Phil Spector. Anyone expecting the sweet disposability of the likes of Pull Shapes or Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me would have been immediately wrongfooted. Carrying on with the lovely Come Away With Me, the wispy guitar strands confirm that while her new direction is darker and more acquired, it’s still pop music. Start/Stop/Synchro in particular is superb tonight. It’s a typical example of her willingness – having shaken off the shackles of others – to play about with melody and timing.
Dougall has plenty of experience with being on-stage, but as any Spice Girl would tell you, it’s not always such an easy feat to assume the centre of that stage. But, Dougall does it brilliantly. Expert in the art of posing, she takes up position behind her small Casio keyboard, one hand on hip, the other tapping away. It’s enough to make anyone – male, female, gay, straight – quiver.
Her voice is stunning throughout. It’s deep and accurate with a sense of detachment. Her music tries to keep the listener at arm’s distance, but every now and then she can’t help but let a smile peek through, and it makes her so much more likeable. In a comparison that will come up time and again it’s impossible to not think of theaudience-era Sophie Ellis Bextor.
Like her old band, Dougall’s style is once again rooted in the past. But it’s a different past now. She takes us back to the alternative music of the 1980s – somewhere between The Sundays, Cocteau Twins, and Joy Division. If there is a criticism to be made, it’s that the lethargic pace and the monotone sound of her shoegaze influences do wear thin after a few songs, although she still finds opportunity to stick in a few Pipettes-style handclaps here and there.
Dougall seems perfectly placed to take on the role of this generation’s indie princess. She thanks those who’ve made it possible for her to keep doing “this nonsense”, but while this nonsense might not please everyone, it sure as hell charmed us.