Rosegold (Thirty Tigers/Cooking Vinyl)
Ashley Monroe’s drift away from country music, begun with 2018’s strings-and-soul-flavoured Sparrow, has accelerated, or maybe has been completed here.
Rosegold, a title which captures both the lyrical and sonic tone of Monroe’s fourth album, isn’t without songs that might, in different circumstances, fit comfortably on her first two records: The New Me, for example, could be a straight Nashville ballad if you took away the hazy keyboard textures, the murmured percussion and late ‘60s Beach Boys wooziness, and, while probably keeping the spoken work section, easing back the treatment on the voice in it.
Admittedly, that’s a lot of ifs. But it’s do-able. Not for nothing though, The New Me is the final track of the album. So for those sceptical about this “drift” (what the less hidebound might consider an expansion or at least, a side trip) by the time you’ve reached the song it may be less a “see, it’s not that far for you to travel to get the new me” as a final rubbing of their noses in the what-might-have-been puddle.
And they thought they had problems with Kacey Musgraves!
Monroe’s moves have not taken her to the shiny, buoyant pop of Musgraves: you would not program this next to your Kylie Minogue track on a mythical radio station. But it has brought her a place where hope definitely floats, where a filtered light removes shadows, and where she resolutely refuses to change gears for anyone.
It is one mood, one mode, and one goal, which is perfectly fine. But it doesn’t really try to do anything of substance in that mode, and that’s where she loses me.
Musically, Rosegold has the dreamy texture of the hours after mid-afternoon sex, or the easing-into-things peeking of morning sun through light curtains: the tempos are either slowly waking or easing back down, and every song may as well be played and heard supine.
The instrumentation eschews sharp edges, whether in those muted programmed drums, basslines which work almost as subtext, or the middle-range strings, and her voice is languorous and light, with the backing vocals even more touched with fairy dust.
It’s unashamedly nice.
If you’re thinking that this might share DNA with the current queen of languor, Lana Del Rey, you’re half right, but there is a crucial difference. Del Rey works nights and harsh mid mornings, not dawn/dusk, and there’s actually little to no haziness in her viewfinder – except maybe the unromantic smog lying over the Los Angeles basin.
Lyrically, Monroe is coming from the same rose-hued place as her sound: her characters safe in their cocoons, even when there are a few blemishes in relationships. It’s as if the world beyond those curtains is not much more than the hum of distant traffic, and if there’s an email, a news broadcast, a phone call that seeks to intrude, she’s not answering.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with that and maybe that cocooning is what some of us want right now. But given how Monroe has up to now been prepared to be a bit more bold and a bit more direct than she needed to be in an industry that rewards conformity, it’s disappointing there’s nothing new being said, nothing insightful being gleaned, nothing that might pierce the gauziness.
Maybe that is the drift we should worry about.