Album Reviews

King Charles – Gamble For A Rose

(Buffalo Gang) UK release date: 22 January 2016

King Charles - Gamble For A Rose When King Charles first came on to the scene his appearance was arguably more striking than his sound. That’s by no means a slight on his debut LP, 2012‘s Love Blood, but his huge, regal Georgian hair style and waxed moustache were hard to ignore. There was certainly a sense of style over substance, and while he was able to make a mark with quirky love songs like Love Lust, the record was not an overwhelming success.

Something about the whole package just did not quite come together and despite finding a fanbase in the same sort of people who enjoyed Noah And The Whale and Mumford And Sons, King Charles decided to leave his major label and management to go in a direction that was truer to his artistic roots. The result – four years on from the release of Love Blood – is Gamble For A Rose.

Before making the album, King Charles told Marcus Mumford: “I want to make the album I should have made five years ago.” So with the frontman of Mumford And Sons taking on the role of producer, that was what the pair set out to do. Although love and romance is once again the central focus of the record, the sound is completely different to the upbeat, multi-layered arrangements of Love Blood.

Instead, Gamble For A Rose is far more stripped back, with the influence of Mumford telling from start to finish. Opener Loose Change For The Boatman is simply reliant on a sweet, melancholic guitar melody as Charles displays only traces of the quick vocal delivery from his debut, before the song launches into a bold chorus that could have been ripped straight from Mumford And Sons’ third LP, Wilder Mind.

It is a formula that is repeated throughout to varying degrees of success, but there is no doubt that the new King Charles sound is aimed at a wider audience. “Let me love you, I wanna show you/ give your love, give your love away,” he sings on Animal Desires, which follows up the opener with another pleasant guitar hook that rises for the chorus, before gradually fading out during the song’s eerie outro.

The Mumford And Sons comparisons come to the fore once more on Choke – not a surprise considering the song is co-written with Mumford – with its slow, bare verse bursting into life on the driving chorus (“Why did you choke all my love away/ did you choke all my love away/ why did you throw, throw it all away again”). Then there’s Lady Of The River, which is the closest King Charles gets to the rock sound of Wilder Mind.

Considering that Mumford And Sons were already in the studio making their third LP when Mumford lent a helping hand to Charles, it is not a big shock that the two projects have seemingly rubbed off on each other. Yet there are moments on Gamble For A Rose when Charles demonstrates some of the individuality that appeared to be a focal point of Love Blood, with the tender Carry Me Away – the first song he ever wrote – a particular highlight.

Despite being a bit cheesy, Bright Thing is another moment of inspiration, with an infectious chorus and interesting arrangement compared to some of the more straightforward compositions that dominate the record. The twee, crooning title track is less effective, but it’s made up for by Tomorrow’s Fool, which initially sounds run-of-the-mill until developing into a thrillingly atmospheric rocker half way through.

Ultimately, there is enough on Gamble For A Rose to suggest that King Charles has the ability as an artist to outshine his fashion choices. Although his second LP does occasionally get too wrapped up in the emotionally-charged anthemic Mumford sound, it is hard not to enjoy on a basic level. Sometimes it is necessary to go backwards to move forwards, and it will be interesting to see where the rebooted King Charles goes from here.

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King Charles – Gamble For A Rose