Karen Elson Karen ElsonThe Ghost Who Walks
One afternoon, in a canoe in the middle of the Amazon River, a shaman married Jack White and the supermodel Karen Elson. And as much Jack White as we include in this equation, this scene still seems to me like something taken out of a romantic version of Indiana Jones. But when we listen to an album, we aren’t supposed to be affected by prejudices, skeletons in the closet, faces, or contracts with agencies like Beatrice Milan or Viva Paris. But we can never really help it, can we? An album is the music that it contains, and the social reality that accompanies it is its wrapper. So to start off, although Ms. Elson might not like it, we are going to have to read odious comparisons with other successful actresses/models/etc. who have taken up singing (you can check the walking advertisements that the albums of Carla Bruni or Scarlett Johansson were, or the more respectable adventures that Zooey Deschannel has gotten into with She & Him for example, among many other cases). And this is not only a reality; it also seems to be an industry. We could fill an encyclopaedia with actors and actresses crossing the ocean (in both directions) and falling straight into the world of music. Some, like Natalie Imbruglia, haven’t received true artistic support until now (with the songs written expressly for her by Chris Martin), and others, like Deschannel, have managed to join with luminaries like M. Ward (whatever you do with him, it will turn out to be golden and to smell like Chanel No. 5). In the case of Karen Elson, she has taken advantage of her husband being who he is, and she had him produce her debut album “The Ghost Who Walks” in its entirety (don’t miss this—the title is a nickname she had when she was little), as well as play the drums, and she kept the composing for herself, a composition that sometimes flags, and at other times is so powerful that it’s frightening.
In reality, Karen Elson frightens only in the three first cuts, three stylish slaps with a glove from beyond the grave that make us think of a mixture between Shivaree and Amy Winehouse (in the case of “The Ghost Who Walks”), Nancy Sinatra doing the music for a Tarantino film (in “The Truth Is On The Dirt”), and again Shivaree with retro airs in “Pretty Babies.” It’s a cabaret pop trio that is so well done that it’s frightening. It seems almost a heresy that a woman with such a long face, who comes from the Land of Flaccid Flesh, should hit the bull’s-eye on her first attempt, and dressed like she is on the cover, wearing a runway outfit smack in the middle of dark night with a full moon.
Unfortunately, on “Pretty Babies” there are already some guitar chords lengthened towards the high notes and played in a group, generating that so-typically-American sound, which sometimes reminds one of the sweetened whistling of a train in the distance. This is the only warning Olsen gives us of what will come next: an exhausting exercise in mainstream country music with its required ballads, stereotypes, and lyrics—sometimes directly from the beginners’ manual. We see it in “Lunasa,” a ballad that is steps away from a crepuscular John Wayne; in “Stolen Roses,” an attack on your imagination where we can even guess the melody from the chords; “The Birds They Circle,” which uses the resource of raising the melody an octave, repeating it, and selling this as a sort of harmonic progression (this is something we’ve already heard a million times, and generally in bad or very bad albums); in “Mouths To Feed” (the title says it all and words are unnecessary); and in the pathetic lyrics of “The Last Laugh,” which talks about protection when the stars disappear from the sky, and which are more disgusting than seeing Falete in a swimsuit.
The seventh song, “Cruel Summer,” and its Midwest melody with the local travelling band together around a crackling fire in the middle of the night, is the perfect summary of a poor album that doesn’t carry its own weight, despite the acceptable “A Thief At My Door,” the robust sound of “Garden,” and the interesting Burton marionette theatre music that is “100 Years From Now.” Except for the first three songs, the rest is a Loretta Lynn/ Farion Young B-side with lyrics by Jewel. Maybe Elson should have opened her heart a little more and spoken to us about her life as a supermodel, a human shell, a hanger on the covers of magazines, and the difficulties involved in all of that for someone who considers herself to be an artist. The album might have lost that sepia-tinted photograph of a cowboy with a damsel in a bridal gown quality, and it might have become something glassier, like the reflection off the eyes of a wolf on the steppes. Jordi Guinart