“There is nothing new under the sun” could perhaps be a fitting mantra for these twilight days of rock’n’roll. I certainly believed that once. Nothing to see here, just the aftermath of a particularly grisly murder, move on to your nearest silent disco.
I was wrong.
My brand-new perspective is that newness is not what we should be focusing on. Anything “new” that ever was is just putting a different shade of lipstick on a stubbornly aging hog anyway. The trick is finding a shade that reveals you. This EP by “music writer” turned musician Madame So shows signs of getting there. The blurb points to Hole, Blondie and Patti Smith as influences, and that’s accurate: perky forward motion, vocals simultaneously nonchalant and committed, and worked-on lyrics are the order of the day.
The band cooks up a brew that’s got enough of a kick to avoid sounding derivative, helped by a production mercifully lacking the bells and whistles often used to mask what should be front and centre – you’ll find no dreamy reverb swathes here, no extra instrumentation filling up every available space, and not much overdubbing to speak of. That’s a smart move, there’s few things worse than a great performance ruined or obscured by overproduction, except for a poor performance hidden and sheltered by same, and at the very least it shows gumption. Variation is achieved not by stylistic eclecticism but by shifts in tempo and dynamics, which reinforce the notion that the band knows its strengths and sticks with them. I’m not convinced that genre gymnastics is a fruitful game anyway, so it’s not a cause for complaint. These players ignore the current tendency towards ineffectual U2-grandfathered lead lines and plodding arrangements in favour of a meaty backbeat-driven stomp. The title track is the musical standout, a taut stalking creation, a two-chord riff used judiciously. “Dig Deeper” with its melodic, midtempo sway varies proceedings just the right amount.
As for matters lyrical, it’s clear from the very first track that So knows her way around a couplet. That’s not to say the words are perfect. There are occasional verses that show signs of being overworked (“Don’t even try to save face/By removing any trace/Of your very own disgrace”), and there’s a fondness for rather academic language recalling Leonard Cohen at his least effective. “Camden Scene” goes for spiky scene-casualty commentary but flounders when it labours the point. So hits the mark when she’s writing about a character, as the unforced insight and endearing detail of “Shiner On” demonstrate. A genuinely affecting look at a girl mixed up in a downward spiral, it’s concise, witty and compassionate. As far as future directions go, my money is on this final song to lead the way. Time, as always, will tell.
Verdict: 4 /6