Charlotte Carpenter – A Modern Rage: Album Review

Charlotte Carpenter considers life experiences and the challenges of the journey into womanhood on her debut full-length album.

Release Date:  6th October 2023

Label: Self Release

Formats: Vinyl / Digital

East Midlands singer-songwriter Charlotte Carpenter has been around for quite some time – almost ten years, in fact – and, thankfully, she’s finally got around to releasing her debut full-length album.  She first entered our consciousness back in 2014 with her debut EP, Take It All, and, over the years, she’s released a whole string of EPs and singles.  It’s perhaps true to say that Charlotte became dissatisfied with the impact that her producer was having upon some of her earlier work – to the extent that she started to feel that the music was no longer her own – and that dissatisfaction prompted her to step back from recording for a while.  There’s no danger that those sentiments will be repeated with A Modern Rage; this is an album with Charlotte’s musical and lyrical imprint at every level – like the lettering through a stick of Cleethorpes rock.

Charlotte’s earliest musical influences include the likes of Avril Lavigne, Radiohead and Death Cab For Cutie and, nowadays, her songs are often compared to the work of artists as diverse as Bonnie Raitt and PJ Harvey.  She certainly covers a lot of bases; A Modern Rage reaches out to blues, pop, rock and Americana in equal measures, and the intimate styles of Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro are never far below the surface. 

Charlotte is an accomplished guitarist and, on the evidence of A Modern Rage, she’s equally comfortable strumming an acoustic or knocking out chunky riffs on her Telecaster but, just maybe, it’s her voice that makes A Modern Rage such a rewarding listening experience.  She does breathy vocal intimacy as well as anyone you can possibly think of and, when things start to get loud and rocky, the contrast between her sweet, soaring voice and the down ‘n’ dirty gritty guitars is remarkable – and thoroughly alluring.

Charlotte Carpenter [pic: Fraser West]

Charlotte has used A Modern Rage to reflect on her life experiences, and those of the other women in her life and her family.  Transition to womanhood, and the challenges that involves, are a recurring theme and Charlotte also makes astute observations in relation to how she became the person that she is, and looks forward also to the person that she wants to become.  And, to express herself to best effect, she’s got a turn of phrase that is, quite often, breathtaking.

A Modern Rage gets off to a low-key start with The Call, a song built around a repeated three-note electric guitar figure.  There’s a sincerity in Charlotte’s voice that remains constant throughout the entire album, and those comparisons with the vocal stylings of Bonnie Raitt are evident right from the outset.  The full band kick in for Spinning Plates, one of three singles to have preceded the album, and an infectious guitar riff propels the song along.  It’s a sprawling affair, with several themes that range from quiet contemplation to glorious release, which Charlotte expresses as she realizes that, despite the obstacles placed in her way, she can, indeed, “Find a way out.”

Things are calmed a little for You’re My Reason Why, another of the album’s singles – a grand ballad that becomes almost anthemic as it reaches its climax.  The assuredness has faded from Charlotte’s voice, and it’s replaced by the tender vulnerability that she projects so well, and the vulnerable intimacy is continued for Not Good Enough, a song that revisits those frustrating experiences from the early days of her career.  With lines like: “Who am I fighting for? Who am I living for? Coz it ain’t me…”  Charlotte explains how she summoned the courage to walk away from the situation she found herself in, and celebrates the pride she continues to feel for having done so.

The contrast between Charlotte’s sweet vocals and the album’s signature gritty guitar sound is particularly evident on the rocky Like a Hurricane (no – not that one…) as her vocal lines are sandwiched between some of the chunkiest guitar licks on the album.  And she sticks to the sweet vocal delivery for the epic Dolores.  Indeed, so intimate and soft is her vocal that it comes as genuine shock when she sings the line: “…but I ain’t leaving it down to love – these days I’ve been feeling like I need to f*ck it up.”  Dolores is, perhaps, the centrepiece to the entire album – a song that, from a soft, humble beginning, grows into something very grand indeed.

The instrumentation is pared back to just piano and what sounds like a viola for the gentle Molly’s Ballad, and, on an album notable for astute observations, the line “I never knew you could die – just from being alive” is particularly outstanding.  And there’s more startling wordsmithery on Fine Line, a simmering rocker that’s maybe my favourite track on the album.  Try “I know there’s a fine line between givin’ in and tryin’, between tryin’ and hidin’, between hidin’ and lyin’” on for size, if imaginative lyricism is your thing…

Charlotte’s vocal delivery hits an absolute peak on the appealing, folky, Secret Sound – without doubt the most intimate song on an album that oozes intimacy, before Draw the Line takes things off in a bluesy direction.  The song’s lo-fi beginnings are gradually enriched by the addition of strings, and the warm twangy guitar solo is an absolute delight.  The album’s title (A Modern Rage, remember…) is slipped into the final verse of the song as it grows into a dreamy anthem.

And that leaves closing track, Bigger Than You, to wind things up.  The lyrics are a final reflection of the inter-relationships Charlotte has experienced in growing into the person she’s become, and they’re sung to a jazzy piano accompaniment that reminds me so much of Laura Nyro.  A Modern Rage is an intriguing album – the kind that you can hear again and again and always discover something new.

Watch the official video to You’re My Reason Why from Charlotte Carpenter – one of three singles to be taken from the album – here:

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