Magic Mirror (Kanine Records)
The hook which intrigued me enough to investigate this album was a friend posting that it was Abba produced by The Band. Say what now? Is that possible or even healthy?
He was right, sort of, for one song at least. The opening track, Only For Tonight, begins with a glistening percussion slide, a dancing queen rhythm and classic Benny Andersson piano, then seems to carry its own disco ball to send little shards of light and lightness wherever it lands as a double-tracked Pearl Charles belies the sad in the lyrics with the glad in the movement.
There isn’t another Abba moment through the record, and really, I’m not hearing The Band either. However, you could say the period is right in that original description, even if the style isn’t. For what’s offered on Charles’ second album is a world of soft rock and easy rolling Los Angeles pop, with small flourishes of London and New York, that isn’t just of the 1970s, it becomes the 1970s.
To that end, forget Abba and The Band and start thinking Carole King and Laura Nyro as much as Karen Carpenter and Smokie, the in-between-years Fleetwood Mac of Bob Welch and Christine McVie at least as much as the more famous next incarnation, and the maxi dress discotheque of Tina Charles and Americana-loving Elton John as much as the easy country rock of J.D Souther and the cross-Pacific pop of Little River Band.
Heartbreak and a loss of identity, crippling self-doubt and yearning are the lyrical drivers, but musically, even in the cleanskin ballads such as the title track where lonely-at-the-keyboard piano is the foundation on which she builds, and the quiet Nashville shape of Take Your Time there’s a consistent thread of eyes-raised-to-the-sky melodies.
The result of this twin (rather than mixed) messages is joyful pain, or hurt mollified by the warm arms of someone who cares. Yes, this isn’t going quite how you planned it but it’s not the end, yet. Not when succour is near.
So while What I Need is about saying what you need to say to keep a lover, even if the end can be foretold, and The Imposter deals with that fear you will be exposed as not as smart/good/worthwhile as everyone thinks, they both sparkle and glide like the smoothest dancer. Even Feel Like Myself, which bares itself with acceptance and opens further as Charles’ voice goes higher, looks up on its strings and holds close on its pedal steel.
This is the kind of record that will irritate some people who find the idea of soft pop, and for that matter yacht rock, an offence to the idea of music’s edge being its principal purpose. And it’s true that too much of this would run the risk of sweetening an already toothsome musical cocktail. But as ever, drink in moderation, and enjoy.