Towards the tail-end of the noughties, Bolton-born Simon Aldred released two albums as Cherry Ghost. Despite a Later… with Jools Holland appearance, a short-lived placing in the Top 10 of the album charts and a surprise win at the Ivor Novello Awards, Cherry Ghost’s commercial momentum spluttered to a halt somewhere in the vicinity of I Am Kloot and other indie-rock also-rans.
Invasion Of Love is Aldred’s third full-length, and it’s a striking departure from what came before it. Aldred has abandoned the formalist indie-rock of its predecessors and has hooked up with Metronomy engineer Ash Workman to produce 11 tracks of electro-pop-soul. Aldred explains: “The pattern of strumming a guitar felt really flat, I didn’t want to make another miserable northern record. I could have easily made an acoustic troubadour-style album, and I had half of that written, but it shouldn’t be that easy.”
Such is the seismic nature of Aldred’s musical shift that he’s chosen not to release it under the Cherry Ghost banner but has instead created a whole new name for its release: Out Cold. The new name isn’t just an exercise in slate-clearing: it’s also likely to be a reference to Aldred’s own coming-out that took place last year. And, while his writing for Cherry Ghost skewed towards decidedly grown-up melancholia, Invasion Of Love finds Aldred writing consistently about sex and desire; not for nothing did the album’s taster track All I Want come accompanied by a video populated by naked models. Aldred says: “The album is mostly about embracing relationships and love, with a longing that’s now tinged with reality, of being gay and singing from that perspective.”
Aldred hasn’t lost his gift for metaphorical, allusive writing, but now his words tend to evoke the most fundamental human desires and emotions. On Murder Black Corvette he describes “a wildfire that’s taken control” of his heart; on Finger Through The Glass he pleads submission (“Hold me in the half light / Kiss me on the kerb / Hang me out to dry”), while the chorus of Synchronised is, frankly, a come-on: “Used to be we could dance toe to toe, hypnotised / Can’t you see, it could be paradise, you and I synchronised…”
Cynics might consider Aldred’s musical metamorphosis as an act of opportunism. Cherry Ghost’s stock-in-trade was the type of common-and-garden indie rock that’s currently struggling to gain airplay; in contrast, Out Cold’s sound – a glistening amalgam of electropop, chillwave and R&B – couldn’t be more modish.
Fortunately, any cynicism quickly subsides in the face of Invasion Of Love. To complement his new sound, Aldred has not only bolstered his songwriting with more hooks, he’s also altered his singing voice – what was once a serious and deep thing is now higher, lighter and more versatile. The results are a consistently listenable, melodic and really rather sexy record that deserves attention even from those who were immune to Cherry Ghost’s charms.
Opener All I Want is a masterclass in slow-burning; Finger Through The Glass is a sultry slow jam; Murder Black Corvette moves through its multiple hooks with great elegance; My Cruel Heart is so sweet and lovely it could have come from the hand of Curtis Mayfield, while Sorrow is an infectious 21st-century update of Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy.
The past 12 months have seen the likes of How To Dress Well, Autre Ne Veut and now Out Cold offer a fresh take on ‘plastic soul’ (the phrase coined in the ’60s to dismiss white people’s appropriation of soul music). By virtue of being the product of a 30-something man from Lancashire, the music of Out Cold is likely to be considerably less feted than the music made by a 20-something from Brooklyn. Which is a shame because, in terms of songwriting quality alone, Invasion Of Love knocks spots off the competition. Highly recommended.