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Reviews

Rose McDowall
Cut With The Cake Knife Kevin Mccaighy , September 16th, 2015 07:55

The prospect of a revival of interest in the work of pop star turned underground artist Rose McDowall was something rather like that of a Jeremy Corbyn Labour leadership campaign – too much to hope for, then suddenly a gleaming reality. The timeless glory of the Strawberry Switchblade hit 'Since Yesterday' has ensured that McDowall has never quite been forgotten (it even appeared on a Ministry Of Sound Alternative 80s box set), but also never quite celebrated. At a time when more established artists endlessly their over-familiar work – Cut With The Cake Knife is a glorious resurrection brought forth by Night School and Sacred Bones, and the opening chapter of an extensive Rose McDowall reissue campaign.

Recorded in 1988-89, and intended as demos for a second Strawberry Switchblade album, these eleven tracks of sparkling, effervescent pop are the work of a truly under-appreciated singer songwriter. The harmonies and shimmering melodies at play on the likes of 'Tibet' and 'Sunboy' are all of a piece with the sense of glorious melancholy that permeated the best Strawberry Switchblade songs. Even in this demo-ed form, their glossy production possess qualities that so many contemporary bands would kill for, an intrinsically transcendent plastic sound that blazes with golden warmth.

It's fascinating to recall that around the time that she was writing and recording these songs, McDowall was involved with a UK underground music scene that included Current 93, Coil and Death In June, all of whom she knew and collaborated with. Her work with Douglas Pearce on Death In June's 1987 album Brown Book, particularly 'To Drown A Rose' finds its echo in some of the album's more strident tracks, such as 'On The Sun', with its throbbing bass and four-to-the floor drum machine pulse. McDowall's bell-like vocals and languorous harmonies are the real prize here, a never-ending stream of wondrous melancholy and gorgeous melody. Her voice is inimitable, retaining a delicacy even in full cry.

The sumptuous title track is the perfect blend of the winsome and the whimsical, a reflection of McDowall's flexibility and the accessible nature of her compositions. These songs display such a diverse range of styles, from the stirring dance pop anthem 'Crystal Nights' to a flamenco guitar-oriented cover of 'Don't Fear The Reaper'. One wonders what would have happened had these delirious songs made it to mainstream radio airplay. It is to the credit both labels that they've been made available at last. The exquisite nature of this slices of dappled pop genius is a joy to behold.

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