On paper, The Loneliest Girl shouldn’t make sense. Within the space of two tracks it’s veered from the Velvet Underground-do-60s-girl-group-pop of ‘I Love My Boyfriend’ to the title track, a 90s dance influenced piece of wonderpop that isn’t massively unfamiliar with Saint Etienne’s version of ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’. That then gives way to a piece of 80s styled power balladry with a Dubstar tinge that includes the official Biggest Chorus of The Year, before – even further in – ‘Respect The Labourers’ instrumentally channels Serge Gainsbourg in a way familiar to anyone who’s heard co-producer Jonathan Bree’s album Sleepwalking, sticks an angelic, super-enunciated Julie Andrews vocal on top of it and ends with a full pomp Springsteen sax solo. It shouldn’t make sense, but it does, and it’s brilliant.
Whilst this is an incredibly eclectic album, it feels natural. It flows like a great compilation, or someone excitedly playing you a mismatch of stuff they’re obsessed with in the small hours. What they’re obsessed with is all over the shop, but you can’t help but be sucked in by the excitement of all those clashing sounds and genres. Recurring lyrical themes and a distinctive wit provide cohesiveness, supported by an organic feel to the instrumentation born of Chelsea’s insistence on capturing spontaneity during the recording process – indeed, many vocal and instrumental parts have been recorded in one take. Through sheer force of personality, you never lose sight of the fact that this is clearly the work of a singular artist.
In some ways this eclecticism is a surprise – Chelsea’s last album ‘proper’ (if we conveniently ignore Aftertouch, a collection of covers), The Great Cybernetic Depression, was thematically and sonically a much more unified album, full of arpeggiated synth patterns, electronic drums and ghostly synth pulses. This time round Chelsea is also more inclined to go straight for the pop jugular, stuffing the album with bigger choruses (‘I Miss My Man’ in particular) and songs that feature hook after hook after hook (‘Wasting Time’, ‘The Loneliest Girl’). Synths are still present, but this time there’s a palpable sense of glee as they’re mashed against more organic sounds.
It’s great. Proper great. Full of ideas, most of which land bang on target – indeed, the only mis-step comes in the shape of the aforementioned sax solo of ‘Respect The Labourers’. For 3 minutes and 12 seconds it’s a quite frankly wonderful song that reflects on a city that “wasn’t built on rock ‘n’ roll”, but by actual people who continue to physically maintain it despite being mostly ignored. The sax solo could be charitably described as ‘a bit much’, but it’s a testament to how much I love this album that I type that and I’m immediately defensive, wanting to take the blame for that particular bit not working for me. “It’s not Princess Chelsea, it’s me. It’s my bad taste. It’s probably awesome and I’m being a hateful saxist.”
There’s a fantastic sense of possibility to this record. Her next could go in any one of the 12 directions suggested by the 12 tracks on this album, or it could go somewhere else entirely. Either is exciting. Roll on album #5.
Review by Steven Horry