CD review: Kirsten Morrell's Ultraviolet

22:22, May 25 2010

Kirsten Morrell's new album, Ultraviolet is one of the main releases for New Zealand Music Month by one of the main music labels. So we'd better have a look at it - given that it's got the NZ on Air logo proudly displayed inside the cover and I've been hearing about it - via press releases - since around December last year.

Morrell, you'll remember, was the lead singer of Goldenhorse. They had a couple of good songs which they rewrote and re-released a couple of dozen times and they had a career that played out under the law of diminishing returns with their singles being played out ad nauseam on commercials, in cafés, on episodes of Outrageous Fortune...

I always thought that Morrell had a decent-enough voice if a little overly affected. She definitely annoyed me with her affected dancing: far from natural and just a little too much like a total act as she used to wind her arm around like the second-hand on a stopwatch, then rewind with stilted jerks and a shy smile. Round and round that arm used to spin and the coy shrug of the shoulders as she bubbled away. It was not normal. But anyway, she could sing.

It was clear though, especially after seeing the band a few times and listening to the albums, that the real brains in the band was Geoff Maddock. He and Ben King were experts at weaving guitar lines together, winding them around one another - Maddock, particularly, has always played with an arranger's ear.

I did laugh at the suggestion that came - more than once - from Goldenhorse's label (different from the label that has released Morrell's album) that the band was really something unique. Maybe in New Zealand - but there was talk of how all they needed was to wow people overseas. I'm not sure how that was going to work. I doubt the international market sat there waiting to be wowed by essentially an unofficial tribute act to The Sundays.

Anyway, now - seemingly far too late - we have Morrell's bid at a solo career. And really, it's unclear why the horse was termed golden when, musically, it was more of a one trick pony. The band should have knocked it on the head after album number two.


Morrell is really doing nothing more than ditching a career as a second-rate version of The Sundays and starting up one, slowly and when no one really cares, as a second-rate Lily Allen.

Ultraviolet begins with Ghosts, a far-too-cute-for-its-own-good pop song propelled, most bizarrely, by a distracting blast of cartoonish electronic percussion that sounds like when one of the cast of The Flintstones had to be somewhere very quickly ("Step on it, Barn'!).

Then we go to Friday Boy and it is to the whimsical world of Ms Allen (for the first of many times). Ew!

In Silent Window Morrell sings about a golden horse, how cleverly self-referential - but this sounds like something that could have been on any Goldenhorse record and to mark it as different the clever guitars were flagged and an annoying backing vocal threatens to overtake the song, feeling overwrought and out of place.

Let Me Go feels like diet-Florence + The Machine, even seeming like an unplugged and uninspiring version of some of the Florence rhythms (Drumming Song this is not).

Then we get a glimpse of country-pop with I Fly Away; not a bad option. Goldenhorse's second album had some urban cowgirl flavours and was all the better for it but this songwriting is pedestrian, prosaic and makes Frente! - at their worst - feel like they were robbed of at least one or two Pulitzer Prizes.

To Town of My Bones then, where the synthetic textures are grafted back on to the bare bones of the song - and Morrell reverts to the stop-start Lily Allen-isms.

The first song that I heard, and maybe it was the same for you, was Cherry Coloured Dreams. An advance single. I don't mind this. It is not worthy of owning the album for this song. But I can't really tear this song apart. It feels like Goldenhorse-lite but that seems the most obvious thing you can say when the lead singer of a band steps out solo. It's certainly not a song that is a) going to save the world or b) even make it much of a better world to live in for the less than three minutes that it exists each time you press play. (In my case, that is not going to be too often so no big issue there.)

Better is unfortunately named - or ironically named - as most of the songs on this album are actually better than it. It's a tuneless lilt; a dart aimed at the board of modern folk and missing by a, erm, country mile.

More successful is Cold Spoilt Girl but we're nine songs into a 12-track album with a sub-40-minute running time.

And when I say more successful it's worth reminding you, even though it was just a paragraph ago, that this is more successful than an ironically named song, Better; you know, the one that most of the songs on the rest of the album are better than. Cold Spoilt Girl, funnily enough, even has a crucial use of the word "better" in its lyric.

It is, once again, a lame rewrite of the vague country/torch songs that were tried on the second Goldenhorse album. I know you think I am repeating some of my points here. But if you want to really immerse yourself in the world of repetition then perhaps this album really is for you.

Wandering Hands has the same tempo as most of the songs on the album. Ah, that's the problem! Everything feels like it is the same on this album. That brings me back to the point of repetition. But I won't repeat that point. Because I said I would not. So I won't. It's not good to repeat yourself. So I am not going to...two songs to go - dig deep...

Marianne is the 11th song on the album.

And then we get to He Walked In. The last song. Morrell sings "why do you do what you do to yourself". I felt like she was singing directly to me. You know how that sometimes happens with an artist - and a song? It speaks right to you. And you wish you could answer it. You really wish you could reply.

Well, here goes. I do this, Kirsten, because I am a reviewer. That's whyI have lasted through your album. If I wasn't a reviewer then I would never have made it. I can't say I am better off for getting to the end. But I did.

I cannot believe that this is where the big money in New Zealand music funding goes to - the major labels, the NZ on Air people. They should be ashamed.

Anyway, that's just - as you will all form a line now to tell me - my opinion. That's just how I feel. How do you feel? Will you check this album out? Maybe you have already...I had to ask several times to get a copy of the album to review. So I'm hardly the first to comment on it.

Have your turn below. If you love this album or plan on getting hold of it, then say so. If you don't like it say so too. That's how it works.

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