Does anyone actually remember The Pipettes? I ask this as a bit of rhetorical question, as it’s a moment in Rose Elinor Dougall’s history that’s been brought up repeatedly around the release of her solo debut, when really it has no bearing on where the young singer-songwriter is today.
Imagine if every review of The Ting Tings mentioned their embarrassing musical pasts, or every time your band was billed, it also featured a mention of that dodgy covers band you started out in (for the record, mine was called Tequila Mockingbyrd, and were once billed as 'Preston’s finest covers band'….)
That’s how it feels with Rose Elinor Dougall, after listening to Without Why, and then seeing the repeated references to her polka-dot past. The Pipettes were little more than a one-note novelty, a PG-rated burlesque of Fifties nostalgia and throwaway pop, whilst RED is a lot more.
For most of Without Why, she’s the brains behind some smart, irresistibly upbeat indie-pop, and deserves to be celebrated as such. The record is peppered with supremely confident moments of sassy tunefulness, whether it’s the opener ‘Stop/Start/Synchro’ or the knowingly-titled ‘Another Version Of Pop Song’, that match Dougall’s cut-glass vocals with some joyously danceable backing.
It’s not all straight-up Belle & Seb straight-fringe indie either. Dougall stretches herself throughout the record, both lyrically and musically. A lot of the songs are concerned with the type of romantic entanglement you might expect, but there’s a stark honesty to Dougall’s words that makes it rise above boy-girl triviality. It’s probably helped again by her voice, which adds poise to even the flimsiest of proceedings. Saying that,at times it suggests Sophie Ellis Bextor singing the songs of Laura Marling is probably a terrible cliché cul-de-sac to wander down, but it does fit the bill pretty well.
Musically, tracks such as ‘Find Me Out’ and ‘Wanting’ find Rose Elinor looking to explore beyond her natural territory. The former is a hazy, country-tinged number, complete with distant whistles and keening musical saws, while the latter delves into droney, organ fuelled directions. The album has taken a considerable time to put together, and it does seem to be an LP that’s been made with care and attention, and with the patience to push things in slightly different areas in this way.
With a sharp sugar rush of upbeat tracks at the start of the record, Without Why does falter a little in its closing stages. You could also worry that, without the big mouth of Florence or the big hype of Ellie Goulding, Rose Elinor Dougall’s thoroughly chart-worthy pop might not gather the attention it deserves. Never mind, that job touring with Mark Ronson will make sure she doesn’t starve, and might bring Without Why to a wider audience. If it means that we can consider her as an exciting solo artist rather than an ex-something or other, then Without Why does the job brilliantly.
7Aaron Lavery's Score