Two years ago, Caroline Rose released Loner – an astonishingly good, genre-hopping masterpiece that may not have sneaked onto many people’s radar, but was quietly one of the best albums of 2018.
Superstar is the follow-up, and in a move that is quickly becoming her trademark, it’s a totally different sound to its predecessor. Whereas Loner was an amalgam of surf rock, pop and soul, Superstar sticks pretty much to a funk synth sound. It’s also a concept album, telling the story of an ingénue convinced she’s destined for fame. It may not be as immediate as Loner, but it soon gets under the skin.
Opener Nothing’s Impossible sets the scene, both musically and lyrically. A misinterpreted phone call from the Chateau Marmont lobby sends Rose’s character off to the bright lights (“No one is going to stand in my way, even if I have to leave this whole city aflame”) while Tame Impala-style keyboards glisten around her.
Superstar really is an album in the most old-school of senses – a record which works in two halves. The first half is upbeat and optimistic as Rose’s character dreams of superstardom, before the tone shifts in the second half, especially on tracks like Pipe Dreams and Back At The Beginning. As those titles suggest, not all goes as expected for Rose’s protagonist.
The album is at its best when it’s in upbeat and funky mode – Feel The Way I Want To is a terrific Prince-style dance track, and is undoubtedly the highlight of the record while the sultry Freak Like Me adds flute and piano to the synths, while Rose sings of a S&M inspired relationship – the sort of person who can be a “vicious dom, who holds my hair when I have to vomit”.
The problem is that when Loner was so good, the about-turn of Superstar is an initial disappointment. There are times during the second half of the record that it begins to feel a bit of a drag, and by the time I Took A Ride comes along, you’re longing for the freshness and sparkle of the first half again.
Yet when it hits form, Superstar is still a fine demonstration of Rose’s talent. Do You Think We’ll Last Forever is a slinky dance number reminiscent of Janelle Monáe, while Someone New is a dreamy synth pop anthem which nods towards M83 at times. However, the two minute-long ‘interludes’, Feelings Are A Thing Of The Past and Command Z are more successful in moving the album’s theme along than being memorable songs in their own right.
Whether she’s being a Loner or a Superstar, there’s always an awful lot of invention and creativity on display in Caroline Rose’s albums. Superstar doesn’t quite hit the heights of its predecessor – at times, it feels like the whole concept of the album’s theme is getting in the way of creating a fully flowing album. When it works though, there’s enough evidence that Rose is still very much a superstar herself.