Album review: Karen Elson – ‘The Ghost Who Walks’ (Third Man/XL Recordings)

Jack White's supermodel wife doesn't really convince us of her country credentials on a stylised debut

International supermodel. Wife of Jack White. Yes, it’s tempting to dismiss [a]Karen Elson[/a]’s debut as an exercise in nepotism and brand-stretching. Unfortunately it’s still quite tempting even after you’ve heard it. There’s plenty to suggest that Elson is merely another unremarkable recruit to White’s ever-swelling musical gulag. Apparently, she took much cajoling to present her music to her beau, but when she did, his immediate response was to whisk her off to a studio with a custom-built backing band, comprising [a]The Dead Weather[/a]’s Jack Lawrence on bass, Jackson Smith – husband of Meg White and son of Patti – on guitar, and White himself on drums. In a recent interview, Elson admitted, “This record only could have been made with Jack.” Little wonder that Elson’s debut sounds very little like the work of The Citizens Band, the cabaret troupe she initiated. Instead, Mr White’s fingerprints are all over it.

Elson’s attempts at bluegrass and country are less Tammy Wynette than Tammy Girl, being utterly bereft of the turmoil, suffering and struggles against adversity that you associate with those genres. ‘A Thief At My Door’ comes with the obligatory croons and wails, but emotionally its closet is bare. ‘Pretty Babies’ likewise falls flat: you’re unconvinced that Elson has jostled with the conflicting emotions of heart and mind that she relates.

Frustratingly, there is the odd flash of real promise. ‘The Ghost Who Walks’ possesses the same mix of sugar and attitude that Noonday Underground’s Daisy Martey has perfected. Most striking of all is ‘100 Years From Now’, a return to Elson’s cabaret roots, it’s the only track here that totally swerves clichés to conjure something idiosyncratic, unexpected and as beguiling as Elson’s red hair and alabaster complexion. If this song’s approach had been the standard, rather than a mere anomaly, ‘The Ghost Who Walks’ might have been a braver and more interesting offering. As things stand, it too often feels like a watered-down version of what Jack White peddles.

Ash Dosanjh

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Click here to get your copy of Karen Elson’s ‘The Ghost Who Walks’ from the Rough Trade shop.

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