Album Review: King Charles – Gamble For A Rose

A Gamble For  A Rose

king charles gamble for a roseReleased January 22nd 2016

Words: Greg Arthur

I remember what feels like many moons ago, hearing King Charles late night on Xfm. Before it became Radio X, before Mumford & Sons were properly touted as folk-arena-heroes from Ireland via Putney, and not long after I learnt to drive, which was a bit worrying. Worrying, because it was dark, late at night, and then this fantastic music fell out of my speakers, and it nearly made me take a left turn on a right hand corner road. It wasn’t the music of the day – Foals and Everything Everything were being pumped out – radio-ready bangers. An intoxicating distraction in the form of King Charles was welcomed, and then…..nothing. A debut LP seemed to exist exclusively under the radar, and Xfm dropped him from their mainstream playlist like a sack of hot shit. Fast forward to today, and it’s now Radio X, and although I don’t listen to that station, I imagine they’re eyeing King Charles up as the it’s-OK-to-like version of James Bay (sans hat).

 

Gamble For a Rose is a triumph and a failure all rolled into one, depending on which side of the fence you’re sat on. I’m currently straddling this metaphorical fence, as I’m genuinely torn where this record fits. The Marcus Mumford production is outrageously apparent, and when he butts in with not even backing, but dual lead vocals on New Orleans and Lady of The River, the songs lose their identity and become a Mumfords track. The latter of those in which the lyrics become Mumford-approved nonsense, “…lord knows, what we’re into, now we’ve opened the door” – WHAT?! What does that even mean?! All of this over a high octane ¾ beat, much like every single from their previous effort to shirk off this twee-folk persona. Also, I’m not being funny lads, but there are no doors in rivers, unless a ship or another sea faring vessel has sunk. Come on, King Charles, sort it out. You’re better than that.

 

In that respect, the record is a failure. A good producer should be involved and help shape, but not directly influence or impact the record with their influence. As a producer, you should know that, and as an artist, have the integrity to push back when an influence is such a strong influence. That really got me down about this record. On the flip side, there are some great highlights, almost reminiscent of the fantastic Michael Kiwanuka. Tomorrow’s Fool is Mumford stained, until 1.54, when it takes on a life of its own. The phoenix rises from the flames, and King Charles rips out the solo the record has been waiting for. It’s Michael Kiwanuka, it’s Deep Purple, it’s a drunk Led Zeppelin all at once. It’s great! Loose Change For The Boatman opens the record, and although not the best track on the record, is a fantastic record and eye opener for fans of his debut. He appears to have grown up, the lyrics make sense, the guitar work although still fantastic, is more mature and crafted. Here’s a crazy idea, he’s gone for the craft of a song than a radio-friendly, stadium-ready chorus. Hats off to you, King Charles.

 

I’m still on the fence with this record. Is it an over-bearingly produced record, or is it the record King Charles wanted to make? It has moments of both greatness and total replication of its surroundings, but it feels more earnest than the sham state of popular folk these days. You won’t hear Ed Sheeran doing the solo from album-closer Coco Chitty any time soon. It’s a brave move to put a Hendrix-style lick in there, and these are the flashes of greatness that not only elevate him above his peers, but keep him interesting. The slack song writing that becomes an outward facing mirror is the disappointment. I’d like to see King Charles succeed, but stick with the same vein of other accomplished acts who have kept their bank full of integrity – Cocos Lovers, Will Varley, Syd Arthur, etc.

Basically, don’t sell your soul for success. Gamble For a Rose is an interesting listen, but no doubt you’ll end up making your own EP from selected tracks rather than listening to this as a full body of work.

 

Watch the Gamble For A Rose official playlist here:

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