Charlotte Hatherley - New Worlds
All true artists dream in colours. Le petit Prince had purple. Both Otis and Joni were blue. Fiery Fiona felt red, red, red. Rebel Johnny gave colour the finger and always painted black. And Charlotte? She wanted them all. She chose white.
New Worlds, like the Beatles own “white” album is by turns dazzling, daft, pensive, childlike, strange, random, happy and sad. All the colours of life. It's a schizophrenic, playful set that runs loops around the rock garden, dares you to chase it and refuses to be caught by the pesky suits with nets. Beware though, first listen you'll insist it's the doings of a she-devil, a crazy one.
As a member of Ash, Charlotte Hatherley became somewhat of an Indie-scene Princess. In a time of guitar bands looking like plumbers she added a touch of glamour, as well as being righteous with an axe. Grown men still go misty-eyed and 'deep in thought' whenever her name is mentioned [Cue long pause]. For those new to the solo Hatherley get ready for a few surprises. Opener and recent single, White, is probably the most traditional thing in this new world, but don't get comfortable. A shining highlight, it's sensually sullen with the force of sledgehammer groove that glamoured Bowie's Sound & Vision; scented, expensive, tailored, timeless.
The flickering fireflies of Alexander swiftly follow but from here on the stage constantly evolves as props and backdrops are brought on and off at an alarming pace. What begins as a bohemian stroll across strawberry fields soon turns left into revolutionary road. The tide swells, lulls and turns like a rollercoaster, and usually within the same song. Straight Lines marries Tomorrow Never Knows kettle drums with Kate Bush Babooshka hysterics whilst the title track is a lost Britpop gem, all Supergrass speed-pogo, slim fit pastel t-shirts and – zoiks! - a drum solo. Colours is chewing gum 'n' dirty looks, hedgehog riffs and a King Kong grip of a bassline. Firebird however is hyper bonkers Roald Dahl pop music. It sounds like a carnival clown tickling the ivories deliriously whilst armies of ghost Oompa Loompas march across a neon sky behind him. In other words, it's freakin' weird and quite unexpected even in this world.
Even the more trad guitar tracks veer off into the woods. Full Circle punches like a top drawer slice of tight-trousered pop-rocky but midway gets distracted by Dame David of Bowie in his Labyrinth costume tapping at the window (who wouldn't?). It then merrily skips off to slip into some Ashes to Ashes' Harlequin pants before returning for a final bow. Little Sahara meanwhile is a blast of “Nurse the medication is wearing off” Lene Lovich ot-oh ot-oh funky pop lined with a fist-in-a-velvet-glove waving “oh boy I love you, I love you alright”. New Worlds must've been a riot / nightmare to build. Only on further listens do you see the fine detail; it's an Aladdin's cave of sounds.
The tour draws to an close slightly exhausted but still very much in Narnia. The childlike Cinnabar flaps and circles overhead like the Fab Four's own Blackbird; delicate, enchanting, “dance like a fire over and over”. A rare beauty with hidden strength, a Unicorn with the heart of a wild stallion. Wrong Notes calls time and is our night ride back to Earth. Futurist, dark and bewitching, it makes a fitting parting gift. “Are you going to be on my side?” asks our guide. Like Jimmy Dean wrote, you can never go home again.
Lyrically this is a psychiatrist's playground. This is clearly someone with a childlike sense of discovery, someone driven to keep pushing forward. Like Lennon's call to “gimme some truth”, Hatherley expresses the ache of putting “another coin into the slot of my mechanical soul” and wanting to “take off my skin” to “see all the colours”. It's a desire to take a bite out of the world and experience all of life regardless, “Take every moment, the good and the bad ones turn them into something beautiful”. These lyrics paint a simultaneously sad and heroic figure, “Open the box now why won't you play?” I'm even briefly reminded of that The Breakfast Club line, “When you grow up your heart dies”. You gotta stay hungry.
New Worlds is a place of marvellous, messy, madness. Sure it's frustrating when it won't quit jumping around the room and you just want to put your feet up and chillax, but that would be to deny its spirit. Don't get me wrong, this isn't Captain Beefheart but it is a very adventurous pop record. It's the sound of an artist breaking free of the shackles of record company bigwigs, demographics, chart positions and occasionally its own maker's sanity. Just be prepared to be disorientated. It's a musical Jackson Pollock; even when I don't get it, I admire its blind ambition to open every box and paint with every colour. As Ms. Hatherley herself concludes “the wrong notes are right and they are part of me”. Amen sister and keep on runnin'.