Gamble For A Rose
22 January 2016; Buffalo Gang
Charles Costa, better known as singer-songwriter King Charles, has rarely done things by the book. The picture of non-conformity; with a tousled mane of hair and a fashion sense that lurches between elegantly chique and downright absurd, Costa is a difficult man to read. His debut album LoveBlood was released in 2012 and looked set to propel the Londoner to mainstream success alongside friends such as Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling and Noah & the Whale. His repertoire of upbeat quirky love songs struck a chord with the British public and became the soundtrack of many a summer. However, a second album failed to materialise, and despite continuing to tour, Costa started to disappear and was quickly swept away, forgotten in favour of the next NME heartthrob.
Four years on, and the King is finally back, and with Gamble For A Rose, it seems that Costa is attempting to address some of his own personal misgivings about LoveBlood. There was a sense that, despite being fairly well received, the album was not the album he had hoped to make, being too glossy and polished to accurately reflect him as an artist. A move of record label and a change of management were required, with Marcus Mumford coming in to produce the new album.
mumford’s influence on the record is hard to ignore
Consequently, Gamble For A Rose is a more stripped back and intimate listen; gone are the shiny synths and cheap sound effects, replaced with slow, sweet melodies and more melancholic, raw lyrical content. On the opening number, ‘Loose Change For The Boatman,’ Costa laments that he is “staring at the demons in the darkest and the deepest”, whilst on ‘Choke’, he asks an unknown girl “why did you choke all my love away? Why did you throw it all, throw it all away again?” It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the intervening years may not have been too kind on dear old Charles.
Mumford’s influence on the record is hard to ignore. Bold, anthematic choruses feature throughout, with tracks such as ‘Lady of the River’ and ‘New Orleans’ sounding like they could have been lifted straight off his folk band’s third EP. It’s pleasant enough to listen to, but it’s hard to avoid the fact that it’s fairly formulaic stuff. Despite the change of direction, there is a disappointingly familiar feel about large swathes of the album, which holds little in the way of interesting compositions or lyrical complexity. It is cringe-inducing at times, too, with lines such as “Let me love you, I wanna show you” (‘Animal Desires’) and “If I let you into my heart, I’ll let you into my skin, and I’ll chase you out just like I chased you in” (‘Brightest Thing’) sounding like they could have been lifted straight from the diary of an heart-broken, angst ridden teenager, or from LoveBlood, for that matter.
That’s not to say that there aren’t more positive moments. The album’s title track is a triumphantly tender orchestral number that even the hardiest soul would struggle not to be touched by, whilst ‘Coco Chitty’ is rejuvenated in its new form, showcasing both Costa’s ability to overbend notes and push his vocal chords to the limits. Unfortunately, the majority of this record strays just a little too close to what has been done before, both by Costa himself and by others before him. It’s clear the direction King Charles is trying to take, but on Gamble For A Rose, he doesn’t quite steer sharply enough, and consequently falls a little short.