"Honey in Treacle Town" by Caroline WhiteReview
Coming soon from Alchemista lead singer Caroline White is a new single which includes two of her own compositions, "Space In Time" and "Honey in Treacle Town" plus "If Only" which was written by Duke Ingram and Rubin Besureis of the London eco-pop band Besureis for whom she sings harmony vocals (and indeed it's that band you hear on that track).
It's been eight years since Caroline last released a solo record as Alchemista formed in the wake of her ‘Patience and Practice' album. However she felt that "Honey in Treacle Town" required a lighter more pop approach than the melodic rock of her group so asked Duke and Rubin to work on it instead which led to trying their style on "Space In Time" and rounded off by their being happy to include the Besureis track: which is a good showcase both for their music and for demonstrating Caroline's stylistic range.
It's interesting hearing her familiar voice here set against a much more minimalist accompaniment. She has a "big" voice to choose to deploy & the backing of the Alchemista instrumentalists enhances the effect of this & probably pushes her into emotive heights. Here, that is not so much in evidence: her vocals sit very much on top of the backing and allow her both to sit upon it & groove along but also to soar above it from time to time for effect.
In terms of the instrumental sound, it's very much more electronic than traditional rock instruments (the abrupt & mechanical drumbeat is a bit of a shock if you are used to hearing her sing in Alchemista) and this adds some quite cosmopolitan, not to say world music touches.
The other big difference is listening to her interact with male voices so much: either as harmonisers or a duet.
"Honey in Treacle Town" was clearly the song round which the project rotated & while not in the position to comment on what an alternative arrangement might have sounded like, this one certainly does work well. Caroline is going for delicacy here & achieves it. The song itself is rather enigmatic both in title and in its theme. The former is both prosaic & amusing: "Treacle Town" referring to Nuneaton and its genesis arriving at a Leamington open mic, when, telling a story of getting lost in that town, someone called the nickname out. Hence the development of a song about getting lost in that place and from there "…. a ‘grass is greener on the other side' theme, and it's probably about anybody who has left anyone having been tempted with the promise or delusion that they can do better elsewhere…" which is a lot deeper and poetic than most people's experiences of the actual Nuneaton are & with a gift of an arresting title to boot.
"Space In Time" (check out the affecting video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4yhiHHO8aI ) is a more traditional ballad form & the track here is the closest to a "full" and orthodox arrangement: albeit one with orchestral effects (at least I'm assuming that most those instruments are being generated by Rubin's technical magic rather than being the analogue versions, although Caroline's Alchemista colleague Paul Jayes does add his "real" keyboard to the track).
The plot of the song, as mirrored in the film, comes from a novel Caroline started writing during lockdown and centres on "..a very upsetting and strange breakup…" which occurred when she was seventeen and although at the time she got over it, she never quite understood why it happened, and inevitably this attempt to revisit it, reflect over it and seek answers, evolved into a song rather than prose.
"If Only" is a different cup of tea entirely: you really cannot equate this one to Caroline's rock work: if anything it's close to classical music or perhaps a better comparison would be to the sort of ballad duets one might expect to find in the context of a theatrical musical production. Obviously this one, as just mentioned, was intended for a different artist entirely and so conforms more to their values & style and presumably Caroline followed their wishes in terms of her own contribution: significant as that is.
The song itself "…was specially written for the band's "Say No" campaign (against animal vivisection) and information about the charity (including this song) will be included in a time capsule on the Space X Lunar Codex launch to the moon in 2024…" which is rather splendid and definitely a first for anyone whom we've written about in "Hot Music Live".
While so far I've been focusing on what distinguishes these three tracks from Caroline's work with Alchemista, it's worth remembering that while an artist might quite legitimately stretch themselves technically & artistically, it's very commendable if they do so without recourse to jettisoning the core of their integrity in the pursuit of novelty. This does not happen here. Caroline clearly enjoys the challenge of expressing herself slightly differently and in engaging with very different musicians, but her approach remains intact: melodic & humane.
I'd say that more often than not, her lyrical direction is towards the metaphysical (which elevates her songs above the clinical mundane) and that applies both to her two songs here and the one she was comfortable singing on though with the authorship of others. So there is plenty of artistic consistency here, applied within a broader stylistic context.
I'm not sure I know where she is going next: perhaps she hasn't got a precise plan herself looking at how the single evolved. Alchemista is still a working group & I imagine that this reinforces her links with Besureis, whether to support their recording or, as here, tilt the balance towards her own material if & when it seems appropriate. But when you've just had a song go into outer space, where is there to go? It's great though to have such options, especially when it enables you to realise your songs as you hear them in your head.