Carina Round’s “Slow Motion Addict” (Part #1)
Allow me to relate a parable about a woman I once loved. Possibly I still do, I don’t know. Carina Round‘s name first came to my attention about seven years ago, when a mate of mine went to some gig or other at the old Ronnie Scott’s on Birmingham’s Broad Street (Alarm bells need not ring. This was a long time before said establishment became a naked lady place). I forget who the headliners were, but when talking about it afterwards he spoke many-a pleased word about a singist who performed supporting act duties. Carina, she was called.
“Sounds interesting,” I responded, before sticking her name at the back of my mind in the usual fashion (not forgetting as such – how could I forget a name like that? – more just nudging her out of harm’s way).
There she stopped for a fair ol’ time, until aroundabout Spring 2001 when a couple of small features in the music press (I was foolish enough to read some of it at the time. I believe, in this particular instance, we’re thinking of the NME and The Fly) beckoned her back to a position of cognitive prominence.
She was due to play a headlining gig at The Flapper & Firkin (for ’twas it’s name at the time) on the 31st of May. On a whim, I bought a ticket from Swordfish records. This isn’t something I’d generally do for a gig at The Flapper, and it turned out to be a good job since A) It sold out; and B) Her set remains the greatest I’ve ever witnessed. Never have I seen emotion so effectively expressed through singin’ and musicin’ and such.
I acquired, as quickly as I could, her mini-album “The First Blood Mystery” (a taped copy at first, before buying the actual CD). Amazing. Nothing is ever perfect (good lord, check out that silly pseudo-continental accent she adopts in the middle of “Message To Apollo”), but this is about as close as most things tend to get. It varies between heartbreaking fragility and restrained venom; restrained, that is, until the harrowing album-ending expectoration of howling and screaming at the close of “On Leaving.” The instrumentation is loose and jazzy, never failing to suit the (her) mood perfectly. It remains one of my absolute favourite albums of all time, and I would disagree with Carina herself in her retrospective labeling of the tracks from this album as “Whiny bitch songs”.
Time passed. I saw her another eight times (and there were another two more after this, but bear with me. I’ll get to those) and each of those was am-a-zing, if not quite as much so as the first time I saw her. I got the second album ‘The Disconnection’, which while not quite as good as the first one was still absolutely wonderful. The sound of it was much less jazzy, and the tone much more abstract rather than tied to specific emotions, but a real sense of wanting to escape seemed to run through it. Songs like ‘Paris’ (“…is beautiful, during the summertime I hear”) and ‘Motel 74’ (with its sonic evocation of broad, expansive American plains) voiced a tale of “anywhere but here”.
More time passed. I heard that she’d signed to a major label, which worried me (ah come on now, how often does that turn out to be a good omen? Both in terms of ‘quality of music made’ and ‘artist ending up dropped and in a pile of debt after a few years’ it rarely turns out to be a happy story) but I chose not to be cynical. She moved to America (as far as I could/can tell), lending post-facto credence to my ideas about the wishes for displacement in ‘The Disconnection.’
The first local gig (no. 10 for me) in ages took place on 15/12/5 and I was ever so slightly perturbed, even if I didn’t really want to admit it to myself at the time. Lots of new stuff was played and (although her ‘sound’ hasn’t ever been easy to sum up) this had a very different feel – much more straightforward, much more ‘rock/pop’, and much closer to the PJ Harvey references she always used to attract but were hitherto never even close to true. Decent enough but not ‘my’ Carina. Another gig a couple of months later confirmed that they were good songs but also confirmed that my fears were probably true. As I wrote on this very blog at the time, I’m not one of these silly people who thinks artists shouldn’t be allowed to change. If she’s happier playing her new music then I’m not cretinous enough to see it as a betrayal. It doesn’t mean I’m obliged to like it, though.
Spin on a bit further. Time passed, the release of her new Interscope album was delayed, then delayed further, and further. It actually ended up having been released for a week before I realised it was actually out, which is something that absolutely would not have passed me by a couple of years ago. I ordered it, and after a bit of faffing about from that bunch of indolent coke addicts who run HMV.co.uk it arrived…