Walking out on mid-noughties retro-pop trio The Pipettes must’ve been a tough decision for Rose Elinor Dougall (or, as acronym fans might prefer, RED). Her departure in 2008 came after Monster Bobby’s protegees had finally finished touring their debut album and, by her own admission, were making quite a nice living, thank you very much.
Their polkadot uniform, synchronised dancing and catchy indie disco floor fillers were perfectly timed, and everyone seemed to be having a lovely time… except Dougall. Apparently fed up of the sheer kitschness of it all she jacked it in, sparking a wave of departures that saw the band do a Sugababes and adopt a completely new line-up ahead of the release of their second album – which appears just weeks after this release.
At the end of 2008 she released a single, the bitterly titled Another Version Of Pop Song, and her debut solo album has been promised ever since. It’s here at last, but Pipettes fans are going to be sorely disappointed if they were hoping she’d bring out wiggles and hand claps for old time’s sake.
The prom dresses have gone, replaced with head to toe black and heavy eyeliner. But it’s not just her look that’s been overhauled. If the hyper-pop of the Pipettes took Dougall to ’60s America, Without Why drags her home to ’80s England and carries her on a wave of moody indie through the ages, throwing her out somewhere around the post britpop era of the late ’90s. The atmospheric, vocal-heavy gloom-pop nods towards everyone from The Sundays to JJ72 and Beth Orton to Felt.
One of its finest ambassadors, Find Me Out, paints pictures of lazy, seaside sunsets. Her voice, like a theaudience-era Sophie Ellis Bextor, is nonchalant and dismissive, but pleading and passionate at the same time, and all the while very, very cool.
The rest of the album skips and flits, sounding more like a collection of individual songs than a complete work. Single Start/Stop/Synchro is part spiky synth-pop, part melodic Motown and part Siouxsie-esque spook-fest; Watching is a gothic, ultra dark folk affair; Goodnight is an emotional rush of piano and strings; To The Sea is a blissed out slice of Stereolab, while Come Away With Me shows off her cut-glass vocals to dazzling effect.
It’s interesting stuff that throws up surprises at every corner, but none of it’s immediate, and releasing as uncompromising an album as Without Why is possibly even braver than leaving The Pipettes to begin with. But that’s exactly what Dougall wanted from her debut – the polar opposite of everything her old band stood for. This time she’s doing things her way. She’s taken her time, and returning the favour will be surprisingly rewarding.