Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Charlotte Hatherley: New Worlds

It’s pretty fair to say that Charlotte Hatherley has achieved a lot. Having bolstered Ash’s line-up to a foursome while she was still at school, she stayed with them for almost nine years until leaving at the start of 2006 to pursue other projects. At the time it was thought it was Hatherley’s decision to leave, but since the ‘amicable’ split, it has been revealed that the three original members had asked her to leave. The true reason behind the split is still shrouded in mystery.

On the basis of this, Hatherley’s third album, it could be that Tim Wheeler and co. were simply scared of her upstaging them. New Worlds is a record that has a very definite sheen of quality all over it. Gone all the rough edges of her début Grey Will Fade, and the sound is a huge leap forward from the lo-fi and somewhat dreary and unformed follow-up The Deep Blue. Playing live with Bat For Lashes has certainly helped Hatherley develop her own sound; New Worlds is the album of a woman sure of herself and ready to move forward in her career. Plus, playing with someone with such obvious pretentions to Kate Bush’s throne has helped Hatherley distance herself from the comparisons between herself and Bush.

Hatherley is surprisingly still just 30 – she seems to have been around forever – but instead of having a major panic and an early midlife crisis (as I plan to when I hit the big 3-0), she’s created one of the finest British alt-pop records of the year. It’s bright, shiny and bold, with Hatherley’s often throaty vocals clearly having been worked on by the guitarist. Now her voice is sweet and sugary, but still with enough variation to be punch when it’s needed, as on first single White, and possible next single Full Circle, which contains one of the dirtiest, fuzziest basslines of the year so far.

The instrument of choice for most of the album is, of course, still the guitar, with Hatherley not stepping out of her comfort zone too much. iTunes refuses to give the album a genre, labelling it ‘unclassifiable’ but in reality the record is unashamedly poppy. Hatherley remembers her way around a gigantic hook well from her days with Ash, although she uses them sparingly rather than drowning the often subtle music in them. It’s good to see her stick to her guns instead of going down the obvious electro route popularised by Pixie La Boots, or whoever is in vogue this week.

Hatherley has for the first time found her quality control button as well. The album doesn’t sag in the middle, due to an excellent running order that fills the the mid-section of the record with short sharp tracks that pass well before their welcome is outstayed. Only towards the end of the ten tracks does attention wander, but in today’s now now now gimme gimme gimme generation, that in itself is a triumph. And the sudden end to closing track Wrong Notes leaves you wanting more.

New Worlds is an exciting step for one of Britain’s brightest talents. Up next for Hatherley: cracking the mainstream.

This review was written for TMM.

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