Alice Gold is a creation. She’s a patchwork doll of renegade tropes, indie myths and rock clichés, stitched with atenuous thread of A&R spin. She’s a stylised package of faux-countercultural nonsense whose music lacks the bravery or imagination to support her boho-chic self-image. And yet, critics seem to love her. So what’s the problem?
Well, put it this way. If fortune blessed you with sisters, and if you are a certain age, you’ll remember the Madonna-themed transmogrification of their early teens. The huge and asymmetrical perms. The word perfect renditions of Material Girl. The hours spent on dance routines to Vogue – in the garden, in their bedrooms, for the benefit of bemused parents (clapping supportively for the nicer songs, but nervously wondering if they could really applaud Like A Virgin).
It was innocent and gleeful, hairbrushes for microphones, thoughts of white-corseted sexual rediscovery a million miles, and an adolescence, away. And it was all play acting. The character, the costume, the theatre – Madonna as the modern girl’s princess. The fairytale played out in Smash Hits. And somewhere, at some point, they realised it. Got too old for the pretence, and moved on.
Someone should have told Alice Gold. She’s got no pretensions to the Queen of Pop, but she still seems like that dreaming teen with visions of emulating icons. For Alice, though, it’s Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Jimi Hendrix – a line-up of frazzled romanticism that makes for the perfect, identikit indie tearaway. Her interviews read like the back of a pencil case – scribbled allegiances to a rock roll-call that seem contrived in the profligacy of the declarations.
But it’s the hackneyed backstory that cements the frustration at Gold’s presentation. Feverishly purloined from her website, every write-up for Alice Gold’s debut, Seven Rainbows, gushes over her “journey” – the one-way ticket to America and the self-discovering tour cross-country; the Winnebago won in a poker game; Gold’s life in a castle, teaching English to a prince. It’s an A&R wet dream. And it’s also a nauseating roll-call of the life goals for every free-spirited waif that drifted through the annals of pop and movie history. It’s a run through, though, that misses out the lost years at EMI, where the label declined to release the debut for an artist then known as Alice McLaughlin – even though overcoming this setback is probably the most impressive part of the whole story. Without it, Gold’s history, far from an inspirational tale of artistic fantasy, feels like a self-referential indie bingo. And one where the filmland adventurousness bears poor reflection to the music on offer.
Last year’s Orbiter is the single that set blog tongues wagging, but its inviting pace is offset with overly-quirky shrieks and blunt lyrics. End Of The World is a KT Tunstall homage, tinged with a Natasha Bedingfield pop. (Ugh.) Seasons Change has an alluring verse where Gold’s voice finds a full-bodied huskiness, but the ideas are trite, both lyrically and melodically. This is, at best, an angtsy Norah Jones – a rock chick made for Radio 2, with a little spice for the chino-crowd but not enough to scare off Ken Bruce.
It does pick up. The jaunty europop of Runaway Love is more catchy, even if overstuffed with half-baked amorousness, and there are stronger moments with the tortured tweeness of Sadness Is Coming and the excellent Conversations Of Love, a bluesy, slow-burn track that sees Gold’s vocal stretched and electrifying.
But nothing earns the image rights, and that’s why it jars. Seven Rainbows is too limited to reflect the globe-trotting wanderlust of this character, Alice Gold. It’s too tame to namecheck her wishlist, too insipid to do them justice. At best, Gold is a ticklist rebellion for the Radio 2 dads – the legion of Mark Corrigan-esque beige-boys looking to fracture their pallid Peep Show of a mid-life. And once you realise that, then all you can see is Corrigan’s sad and desperate face, and all you can hear is the kind of crushing internal logic that makes them list their life’s excitements.
“I’m out on a date with a teenage goth, smoking pot in the Lazerbowl toilets. This is it. This is literally it. This is the sort of thing people do when they’re having a good time.” Quite.