Although it’s her third solo album, she’s probably still best known for her 1996 Six Underground hit. This couldn’t be further from the trip hop success.Rocking Horse has plenty of beautiful moments – a warm production, some wonderful, breathy woodwind, mystical melodies and gorgeous strings.
Its twee-ness makes sense when you know Vashti Bunyan producer Max Richter was on board.
But this is twee to an extreme, conjuring images of floral frocked maidens flouncing around in fields with white bunnies and curly haired perfect children – her promo pictures even show her in a magical garden surrounded by fairies and butterflies. There’s a distinct feeling of folk for folk’s sake and it can sometimes be a little too much to swallow, especially in some of the lyrics. It’s beyond the move to folk that Goldfrapp mastered with Seventh Tree, using a few more clichés and depending a little too much on ambience than substance.
Ali’s vocals are soft and whimsical with a delicate tremolo. It’s so soft, it feels like it could break and it would be nice to hear her voice a little more raucous on occasions. There are also a couple of duff notes, which sound odd among the perfect production.
Although some songs sound like they should be a soundtrack to a Disney fantasy film, they still have some lovely elements. The Savages begins with a wonderful medieval clarinet and Dancing Bears has an exquisite flute accompaniment and a happy-go-lucky melody that really brings a smile to your face, but both melodies and lyrics are a little too pretty to stomach with Ali’s little girl act, like a nursery rhyme adapted for the ballet about princesses.
Saying that, there is a lot on the album that is truly stunning. The aching stings and Ali’s haunting, lyric-less singing in The Kiss, the murder mystery-esque oboe of Flowers, the jazz riff in What To Do.
Rocking Horse could go either way for folk fans. On one hand, the instrumentation is beautiful, the feeling is dreamy, the essence is of magic, mystery and fantasy. On the other, you may need someone to hand you a bucket.