Four years ago, Caroline Rose released her debut album, I Will Not Be Afraid, a rootsy slab of alt-Americana rock that did what it did very well. What it didn’t do was even hint at what was to come next.
Rose’s second album, Loner, feels like a complete reboot. It thrillingly disregards genres, skipping from one style to another with an almost breathless sense of abandon and has the sort of ambition that made Janelle Monáe‘s The Archandroid such an memorable listen And it does all this within the space of 35 minutes, ending by almost daring you to press ‘play’ and experience the entire dizzy ride all over again.
So we get the frantic rockabilly of Money sitting inbetween the slick synth-pop of Cry! and Jeannie Becomes A Mom, the gorgeous, soulful tale of motherhood and living in the suburbs where “the time don’t stop, even when you’re living in colour”. Later on there’s a minute long instrumental jam consisting entirely of Rose and producer Paul Butler (of The Bees fame) repeating the phrase “smile baby”, and the album ends on Animal, a stinging tale of sexual jealousy which pays pretty blatant homage to Justin Timberlake‘s Cry Me A River.
Despite Butler’s considerable presence behind the production desk, Loner is very much Caroline Rose’s record – she played guitar, keyboards, bass and programmed all the synths and drum machines on the album. It’s the sort of record that almost bursts with personality: which, in an age where a bland homogeneity is the limit of many people’s ambition, is refreshing. It’s that personality that makes opening track More Of The Same sound such an ironically titled song.
Lyrically, Loner is all over the place, in the very best way. Bikini is a take down of sexism and misogyny in the entertainment industry – “all you have to do is put on this little bikini…and dance” exclaims Rose, and you can almost hear the contempt dripping from her voice. On the other end of the scale is the doomy To Die Today, which as the title may suggest, imagines what it would be like to die: “Gonna know what it feels like to drown, my lungs fill up and make like the liquid of a cloud” intones Rose over a spectral, almost ghostly, groove.
To Die Today, like many tracks on Loner, leads into a song which is its musical polar opposite, the excellent Soul No 5, a ridiculously fun response to street cat-calling – “I don’t have a job but I got a lot of time, baby show me yours and then maybe I’ll show you mine” runs one line over an impossibly infectious piece of guitar pop. It’s the sort of album where not just your favourite track could change every day, but your favourite part of the album could do so as well.
Loner could become that rare thing, a true word of mouth success – for, after a few listens it’s easy to envisage becoming evangelical about Rose, and telling everyone you know about the album. There’s not one dud track on it, and each listen unveils something new to hear. Most pleasingly though, in these dark times, is that it’s a whole heap of fun. 2018 may be only a few months old, but we may have its album of the year already.