King Charles likes to take his time with things. He rocketed onto the music scene in 2009 when he became the first British musician to win the International Songwriting Competition. He performed on the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury that, sharing the bill for the stage with the then-unknown Two Door Cinema Club. However, his much-anticipated debut album ‘LoveBlood’ wasn’t released until 2012, but it was met with acclaim once it eventually dropped. It was then four years until we saw Charles’ follow-up album ‘Gamble for a Rose’, before there was radio silence again. Now, four more years later, Charles has released his third album ‘Out Of My Mind’. It’s a sprawling album with soaring high points and some unfortunate lows, which begs the question: is it possible to work on an album for too long?
In a recent interview with Daily Star, Charles said that the album was the result of a process that began with “different sessions, different times, different people”, and it shows. There’s not a whole lot of continuity between each track, and genres are switched frequently with reckless abandon. The result is a wild journey inside Charles’ mind through songs he says are about “love, loneliness, sex and suicide”.
It must be said that there are some really good tracks on ‘Out Of My Mind’. Melancholy Julia is one of the strongest tracks, with a sound and style reminiscent of Vampire Weekend’s This Life. It slowly builds to an almost euphoric point, never quite tipping over into full-blown joy but staying just under the threshold at quietly hopeful. Drive All Night is a dark bop that sits in stark contrast to Julia, with an arrangement of synths that wouldn’t be amiss in a European techno club. The chorus, with its “na na na na” backing vocals, makes it hard to sit still. Drive All Night shows a side of Charles that I’d love to hear more from.
Money Is God similarly borders on pop, albeit in a different vein. There are aspects of the darker, quieter pop we’ve seen from artists like Billie Eilish, which is very intriguing. The vocal opening from a female flight attendant sets the scene for the most ambitious track on the album. If someone told me this was actually from the soundtrack of a musical about Wall St traders, I’d believe them – and that’s actually a good thing. Money Is God is enjoyable as a standalone track, with one of the best synth sections on the album coming in around the 2:20 mark. It just stands out like a sore thumb in the wider context of the album.
She’s A Freak continues with the spoken-word-type singing seen in Melancholy Julia. The falsetto-driven, synth-heavy chorus pulls the song along well, but the verses feel a bit flat some of the time. The Prince influence is very noticeable here, though, and the track overall sounds like something from an 80s noir film.
Title track Out Of My Mind distinguishes itself as a track that relies more on acoustic or natural instruments than the others. It’s driven by a strong guitar line initially as Charles croons over the top, before breaking down further into more distorted soundscapes. Again, it really doesn’t set the scene for what to expect from the rest of the album, but as a standalone track, it’s pretty well done.
‘Out Of My Mind’ flags somewhat towards the end. The meandering New York Sunrise ultimately goes nowhere, with all of its parts competing for your attention but none of them grabbing it. Similarly, it’s the last forty seconds of Watchman that save it.
Overall, ‘Out Of My Mind’ is all over the place. Every song is a different genre and unfortunately it doesn’t quite pay off. That’s not to say that variation isn’t a good thing. It’s just that King Charles is at his strongest when he’s broodily upbeat, like on Drive All Night, or tentatively hopeful, like on Melancholy Julia and Feel These Heavy Times. I’d love to hear some of the tracks that didn’t make the album to see if Charles could have given us something more cohesive. However, ‘Out Of My Mind’ definitely his most ambitious album yet and that’s something to be commended in itself. When King Charles is in his element it’s great, so it wouldn’t hurt to stick to the styles he excels in.
This review first appeared on Square One Magazine. The full review can be found here.