The Runout Grooves with John Earls: Interview with Pearl Charles
Each fortnight, leading music journalist John Earls goes deep on new releases, examines the latest vinyl issues and talks to a rising new star.
Release The Tracks - the pick of the next fortnight's new albums
Until Foo Fighters release their new disco-influenced album Medicine At Midnight on February 5, there's no huge names set to detonate 2021's chart.
It means the early part of the year, traditionally quiet anyway, lets newer and cult artists get a headstart. Sleaford Mods are the perfect act to summarise 2021 so far. Their latest album Spare Ribs is typical of the duo's frustrated, frenzied and ultimately compassionate approach - and recent single Shortcummings is typical of Jason Williamson's ever-hilarious lyrics.
London punks Shame released their exhilarating debut Songs Of Praise in January 2019. Exactly two years on, they follow Fontaines D.C. in moving into a more atmospheric world for Drunk Tank Pink. Don't be surprised if a Mercury Prize nod follows.
While there's little on January 8 bar Barry Gibb's duets album, January 15 also offers You Me At Six's fizzing Suckapunch and Cerys Matthews teaming up with poets including Lemn Sissay, Adam Horovitz and Liz Berry on the poignant We Come From The Sun.
MAKING THEIR DEBUT: Introducing your new favourite artist
This week: Pearl Charles
Landing somewhere between Jenny Lewis' West Coast nostalgia, Beck's anything goes attitude and Beth Orton's drowsy hypnotism, Pearl Charles essentially makes timeless radio pop. Her third album Magic Mirror is so full of earworms, with the right Radio 2 backing or a break on The Graham Norton Show, it deserves to one day become as ubiquitous as Fleetwood Mac's Rumours in record shops.
Pearl grew up in Hollywood, and Magic Mirror is cinematic in conjuring up a vivid, technicolour world as she moves through single life, self-discovery and finding redemption. With songs as stupidly infectious as Slipping Away and Sweet Sunshine Wine, Magic Mirror is the first great album of 2021.
Pearl Charles on looking in the Magic Mirror
Congratulations on helping everyone start the new year right…
Thank you! The record was finished last January and was due for release last May, but everything was so up in the air. I'm really
excited to share it, even though it's hard to gauge how it's breaking through without playing shows. But, as cliched as it sounds, the world needs music now and always.
Does having chance to live with the record for so long make you look differently at it?
I’m still really proud of the songs. This album has a timeless message, whereas in past records I’ve been writing about a break-up or something specifically happening at that time. I feel this record has a more universal message that’ll continue to have relevance despite the times changing so drastically. I wrote it in a completely different time, but it actually rings truer now. One of the songs is about the world ending and I thought “OK, the world was ending before? Now it really is.” There's also a love song about someone who hadn’t come into my life yet, and then I somehow called that energy in and met my boyfriend! Songs can be magical like that.
It's a very classic sounding record and you include Fleetwood Mac and Abba among your influences. What’s the appeal of those older artists?
My parents turned me on to lots of great music. Plus, I grew up two blocks from Laurel Canyon, so that side is in me whether I choose it or not. My first record was The Spice Girls but, in the carpool driving to school, I'd always pick the oldies stations when it was my turn. I think Magic Mirror is a classic pop record. It's hard to market it as 'pop', but we had Sheryl Crow in the '90s and there's always room for that. We've just got to find that room.
Your dad Larry Charles directed Curb Your Enthusiasm and the first Borat movie. What was the reality of growing up in Hollywood like?
Dad’s work meant there were lots of cool, successful people around. I was lucky to have that encouragement. I saw both how I could succeed as an artist and how to get in touch with my artistry. I was really into musical theatre as a kid, but my parents said "You should learn how to write songs, as that's how you'll express yourself." I couldn't have asked for more support. But I'm the only one of my siblings who's an artist, so the pendulum swings both ways.
I gather you’re making music with your boyfriend for your next record…
We’ve been making music that seems to fit the new reality. It’s partly inspired by a playlister called Pastoralia from Australia, and pastoral music suits the mood of being at home and thinking of what you really want to do when there’s no-one else there.
Pearl’s album Magic Mirror is out on Kanine on January 15.
Let The Records Show: Going behind the myths about vinyl
This week: How Queen brought coloured vinyl up to scratch
Ever since the vinyl revival kicked in, there’s been a debate among collectors on the merits of coloured vinyl. Purists say a record should only be on black vinyl, because black sounds better. Yet coloured vinyl releases always sell more than their black vinyl equivalents, which are seen as old-fashioned. Red, blue, green, pink, splatter-coloured vinyl editions often cost a couple of quid more than the poor old black vinyl equivalents too.
But are the old-school purists right? Does black vinyl sound better? The short answer is: it used to.
Vinyl is naturally colourless. Carbon, added to make the black colour, naturally strengthens the vinyl. For any other colour of vinyl, a dye is added. Dye doesn’t weaken vinyl, but nor does it strengthen it like black vinyl’s carbon. The dyeing process is also about 75p more expensive for every copy of a coloured vinyl than a black one. No wonder coloured vinyl copies are usually limited editions – and it explains the price difference.
But if black vinyl is stronger, why are coloured variants so popular? The answer is partly thanks to Queen. When Universal wanted to issue Queen’s boxset The Studio Collection on coloured vinyl in 2015 – a different colour for every album, themed with the sleeves’ colour – vinyl purist Brian May wasn’t convinced. He said he’d only allow the coloured boxset to be pressed if it sounded as good as classic black.
Queen’s mastering engineers Bob Ludwig and Miles Showell – both veterans behind countless other high-end remastered albums – got to work. They essentially replicated the strengthening qualities of carbon into the dyeing process, a technique now used as standard. No longer are coloured records the “colourful frisbees” purists used to mock them for. Picture discs, however… They do still sound terrible. Sorry. HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT: Unearthing hidden treasures on the shelves This week: International Teachers Of Pop – Pop Gossip (Desolate Spools)
Between Sheffield producers Dean Honer and Adrian Flanagan and Manchester singer Leonore Wheatley, International Teachers Of Pop have worked with Jarvis Cocker, Fat White Family and Maxine Peake. Coupled with riotous live shows, their self-titled debut was a cult favourite.
It's easy to draw comparisons with The Human League in both geography and Wheatley’s deadpan vocals giving a northern grit to superficially shiny, sleek pop. But there’s a playful air of mischief that even Philip Oakey rarely achieved, especially on the pounding Flood The Club, while the devilishly catchy The Red Dots (Dirty Mind) deserves to soundtrack scores of documentaries about dating apps. The fact that Sleaford Mods collaboration You Stole My Plimsoles is only averagely brilliant from the trio speaks volumes about how many great singles lurk here. The Teachers have plenty of wisdom to impart – pay attention, class.