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Friday, October 20, 2017

Chelsea Wolfe: Mistake In Parting


1) Inside A Girl; 2) Nothing, Noone; 3) Sleeping; 4) Mistake In Parting; 5) Your Name; 6) Hallelujah; 7) No Luck; 8) Lay Me Down; 9) Winter; 10) Dreamer.

Ever since achieving dark-stardom, Chelsea Wolfe has been trying to erase the memories of her first album from public conscience — deriding it as a "shitty singer-songwriter breakup album" made by a 21-year old, the sooner forgotten, the better. Then again, you know, Adele made a "shitty singer-songwriter breakup album" and actually called it 21, and God saw that it was good (so good that he made her do a really shitty one four years later, to compensate), so why couldn't Chelsea Wolfe's? Moreover, she does admit that the songs she wrote for the album were quite personal — too personal, in fact, for her own tastes — and this inevitably means that any fan of the lady should lay hands on it sooner or later, if only in order to understand where this particular idol is coming from.

In all honesty, this is not nearly as bad as Chelsea herself makes it out to be — though, probably, I'd be angrier at these songs if I did not hear the artist in person get angry about them. Much of the record is just harmless (and usually boring) acoustic folk, the kind that aspiring young ladies and gentlemen like to film themselves playing in their bedroom and then hanging out on YouTube for their five minutes of glory — «sincerity» probably being the most, if not the only, interesting part about it. From time to time, she goes electric, and then it is like your average alt-rock crunch, though, fortunately, not drowning in Nickelbackish distortion. The lyrics and vocal intonations suggest a heavy Radiohead influence — which, unfortunately, never translates to compositional complexity or catchiness: most of the songs are atmospheric poetic rants that very rarely have any dynamics, usually just going round and round until the tape runs out.

In this context, the somewhat colorless voice hovering above the arrangements is a good thing, because, despite my confessed bias against "singer-songwriter breakup albums", somehow the record still manages not to cross the line from «boring» to «irritating», even when the artist's Big Ego is placed square in the center of everything, as it is on the opening number — ʽInside A Girlʼ, a fairly provocative title in its own right. She just uses a few impressionist keyboard lines and some strings here to tell her own story of seduction and betrayal, and there's nothing particularly wrong with that: everybody has a right to that story if it's the truth, or, hell, even if it's not the truth. I cannot remember anything about that song once it's gone, but while it was playing, it did not make me want to go, «who are you to be manipulating me with your bullshit». It sounded fairly natural — as does everything else here.

The downside is that there is really nothing to write about, as most of the songs are strictly neither good nor bad. The arrangements are okay (she would later complain about the album being over­produced, but I don't really hear it — I mean, pianos? strings? chimes? alt-rock guitars? what exactly is the source of complaints?), the voice is okay, the melodies offer no surprises, the lyrics show that she can come up with a pretty decent analysis of both her own and her ex-boyfriend's problems... end of story. Only one track, ʽWinterʼ, shows brief hints at the future developments of her sound, with a slightly doomier guitar tone than usual and lyrics like "lay in my grave with me my love / we'll die side by side, hand in hand" foreshadowing the morbid veils of her mature career (and no, these lines are not among the album's finest, but if you're young and you have your whole life ahead of you, hell, why not include them anyway?), yet even that is just a solitary foreshadowing. But now at least we know why Chelsea «Joy» Wolfe has such a grim vision of the universe at large: her boyfriend dumped her, and things would never be the same. This is, you know, where Batman begins and stuff.

One technical reason why this record could be wiped from discographies is that it never had a real label, being self-released in CDr format with only a few hundred copies or so. But then, 2006 is not like the underground Eighties: she had herself the luxury of a properly equipped Californian studio, a professional backing band, there's, like, album art and all — and it is very cleanly pro­duced, so that the songs never give the impression of raw demos. And I do not think this record is something that she'd need to be particularly ashamed of: at least this way, her fans have this nice little opportunity to get a quick peek inside her real soul, rather than always have to deal with her «alien» artistic persona. Not that you'd find anything particularly outstanding there, but... well, anyway, I do not want to create the impression that Chelsea Wolfe is a genius, let alone that Mistake In Parting is some sort of underappreciated, heart-wrenching spiritual masterpiece. In fact, it might have been more fun if it turned out to be some campy embarrassment, like the early dance-pop records of Alanis Morissette, or Y Kant Tori Read. As it is, it's largely just a blank.

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