Jam Rostron's fourth album uses electronic pop to confront the politics of gender, but soon runs out of ideas
Planningtorock, who’s from Bolton originally and is now named Jam Rostron (changing her name from the gender-specific Janine), is part of a gender-bending, playfully political artistic heritage that includes fellow Berlin-based artists Peaches and Chicks On Speed as well as Lady Gaga, kd lang, Annie Lennox, Sylvester, Grace Jones and Bowie. Plays on sexuality are nothing new in pop, but the politics of gender are seldom confronted as directly as they are on Rostron’s third album, ‘All Love’s Legal’. The title is a giveaway, as are songs with names such as ‘Misogyny Drop Dead’ and ‘Patriarchy Over & Out’. Both raise issues that Rostron addressed on her last album, ‘W’, but the choice here is to be absolutely unequivocal. With ‘W’, it took time for themes of shifting identity and gender liquidity to emerge, and only then did you realise that its title was a pun – ‘double you’.
There’s no such subtlety on ‘All Love’s Legal’. There’s a sense of play here that ensures Planningtorock never feels like colourless political sloganeering. Sonic ideas – like pitching her vocals down so they sound neither male nor female and using strings to create an almost daft sense of drama – remain, but it’s far more of a straight-ahead electronic pop record, making it feel more fun than ‘W’, despite the seriousness of its intent.
It’s also relentlessly positive and celebratory. On opener ‘Welcome’, Rostron repeatedly sings “Fall in love with whoever you want to” over a Balearic synth line. The title track goes “Love is the one gift that gives life its purpose” – a statement that’s undeniable in any context, and that’s exactly the point. ‘Let’s Talk About Gender Baby’ is a jacking house track that again uses a simple, repeated lyrical phrase, and there are nods back to early-2000s Berlin electroclash on both ‘Misogyny Drop Dead’ and ‘Public Love’.
It’s a brave record, but also a frustrating one. While you’re persuaded by the clarity of Rostron’s vision, it’s hard not to also suspect a shortage of ideas. This isn’t an album, like ‘W’, that draws you back in, and after 45 minutes on a single theme you’re left convinced of the value of a bit of mystery in music. Liberation doesn’t feel like liberation unless you have to work at it a bit.