Caroline Rose opens Loner with a song called “More of the Same,” yet right out of the gate this record has the force of true originality—not just because it’s vibrant and brimming with personality, but because it’s a noticeable change-up from her proper debut. I Will Not Be Afraid introduced a singer/songwriter who was spunky enough to write an album opener called “Blood on Your Bootheels,” but its sense of mischief-making was tempered by country twang and a vague sense of roots-rock earnestness.
Whatever country affectations that record had are gone, even as Rose’s impish humor and cheerfully anarchic spirit is cranked to full-blast. Here the touchstones are new wave pulse and garage rock mayhem; Rose spikes “Money” with surf guitar and makes better use of the Farfisa organ than anyone this side of late-’70s Elvis Costello.
But those are just the guiding impulses for a record that’s amped up on snarky humor and a boundaryless sense of exploration: Rose is as comfortable gliding through retro-soul (on “Soul No. 5,” which explodes in cacophonous guitar) as she is snarling through warped pop (“Bikini,” which splits the difference between Devo and The Monkees). Yet for all the album’s electrifying experimentation, the biggest shift from her debut may be Rose’s voice, way up at the forefront of the mix—she now sings with startling boldness and authority.
Rose’s pan-cultural adventures recall some of the playful postmodern spirit of Beck or even the Beastie Boys—but as unpredictable as the arrangements are, the songs themselves are linear and heartfelt. Loner could rightly be called a feminist album or perhaps simply a human one, weaponizing empathy in an age of despair: “More of the Same” considers modern malaise while “Cry!” pictures a woman who’s destined to have her heart ripped out in this cruel world, and in both cases the operating mood is compassion—never pity.
Meanwhile, “Money” is a dizzying paean to greed, tongue planted firmly in cheek, and “Bikini” views fame through the eyes of objectification. In one of the album’s quietest moments, the singer lets out a weary sigh: “I think it might be getting to me,” she sings. That vulnerability is close to the heart of all these songs, but Rose wears it as courage and empowerment.