Music

Caroline Rose, A 'Superstar' Is What You Are

Photo: Cara Robbins / Courtesy of New West Records

Caroline Rose's Superstar is often quite grand in a DIY-kind of way. Think of 1980s era MTV rock performed on a Casio keyboard with a sampler in your bedroom as recreated on modern technology.

Superstart
Caroline Rose

New West

6 March 2020

In terms of color-coded personality profiles, a red is someone who thinks logically instead of emotionally. A red is a person who knows what they want and usually gets it. As Caroline Rose's name suggests, she is such a person or at least maintains such a persona on her latest release. The album cover features her face flush with ruby cheeks, burgundy lips, and scarlet hair in front of a crimson backdrop. It's a record about a woman determined to become a Superstar as she ventures across the country to pursue her destiny.

Rose wrote, arranged, produced, and recorded the album. She put her voice in the forefront and operates as much as an actress as she does a singer as we travel through the different states of mind. Rose also plays keys, synths, bass, guitars, drum programming, percussion, flute, ukulele, and added field recordings to the mix. The musical context is often quite grand in a DIY-kind of way. Think of 1980s era MTV rock performed on a Casio keyboard with a sampler in your bedroom as recreated on modern technology. Big disco beats and synths often announce that something dramatic is happening and inflate the narrative. There's a thin line between being resolute or obsessed, strong-minded, or delusional. The protagonist of these tales often crosses that line.

The lyrics are goofy Broadwayesque-type clichés (i.e., "I'd rather be a hustler on an 8-ball pocket than a tattered tarot card in your fake gold locket") as Rose proclaims nothing is going to stand in her way and nothing is impossible. She doesn't belt the words but sings them conversationally as if she's sharing gossip with a friend. Other times, she coos in quietly seductive dance floor voices, sometimes filtered and overdubbed. The mix of the sophisticated and the simple suggests the main character's instability, a theme that runs across the entire album. She's not so much innocent as naïve, and not as naïve as hallucinatory. She experiences what is and isn't there. "Feelings Are a Thing of the Past", Rose repeatedly croons on the soft, short, mostly instrumental track of that name before launching into a hard-driving Prince-style "Feel the Way I Want". The narrator has it both ways.

And sometimes things get weird, such as on the romantic S&M song "Freak Like Me", a quiet, gently‑atmospheric tune whose first line, "My love is a bad idea", begins her litany of shared desires. There's no judgment. It's unclear what is real and what is fantasy, but that is the point. There is no rational explanation for one's desires. The "red" in her just goes after what she fancies. That's reason enough.

Superstar has its share of joie de vivre, but it also contains a dark edge to show the limitations of a single life. That is especially true of "Command Z", a less than 90-second song that sonically recreates how a panic attack may feel while discussing the simple fact that not only we will die, but so will everybody we know and love. But Rose's narrator doesn't dwell on the fact. The last two album tracks concern beginning again and the positive importance of taking risks.

There are no songs on the album called "Superstar", and that word never appears on the record. The term suggests both the tragedy of Karen Carpenter via the Todd Haynes movie and the dreamlife of Molly Shannon's Saturday Night Live (and movie) character. While this may not have been intentional, there are aspects of both these individuals in the title protagonist. Rose's creation reveals our collective unconsciousness as fans who shape the biographies of our entertainment heroes.

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