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A few weeks ago, we celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of Janet Jackson’s breakout album Control, a recording that showcased its creator’s commitment to defining and reclaiming her identity, both as an artist and as a woman, in the aftermath of professional and personal disappointments. Three decades later, we find ourselves enraptured with Rosie Lowe’s debut album that shares the same name and examines parallel themes of female empowerment and self-awareness.
The youngest of six siblings, the Devon, England born and London based singer-songwriter was immersed in music from an early age, developing a particular affection for soul, jazz and folk, while cultivating a profound appreciation for the art of songwriting. Citing inspirations that include Erykah Badu, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Joni Mitchell, Lowe has spent the past few years honing her vocal chops and refining her elegant brand of electro-soul, first formally introduced to the world via her 2013 Right Thing EP.
In the interest of full disclosure, we regretfully overlooked the EP when it was originally released and only discovered Lowe’s many charms upon hearing her magnificent “Worry Bout Us” single in the early part of last year. The song—and the Machinedrum Edit version and Ewan Pearson remix—positioned Lowe squarely on our “must-watch” list of emerging artists, and inspired us to delve deeper into her musical repertoire to date.
Just north of two years since she released the Right Thing EP, which was followed by the periodic unveiling of new singles, Lowe released Control, her first proper full-length album, yesterday. “It’s like I’m giving birth, to a child I’ve carried for two years,” Lowe recently confided to The Line of Best Fit. “I’m trying to relinquish some control. I used to be so obsessed with controlling everything, but you can’t create under those conditions—You’ve got to allow yourself to fail. This is the last part of the process of letting go, literally relinquishing the album.”
Replete with an evolved and more varied sonic structure relative to her earlier work, Control exudes a sophisticated cool and confident poise, without Lowe ever sounding stoic or disaffected, as some critics have suggested. Much to the contrary, her voice is simultaneously emotive, vulnerable and reassuring, while her lyrics are sharp yet contemplative. And underpinning it all is Lowe and Dave Okumu’s inventive, hypnotic production defined by minimalist moments that invariably crescendo toward dense, beat-heavy textures.
Not surprisingly in light of its declarative title, the album’s pervasive thematic thread revolves around reconciling the complexities of yielding, seizing, and preserving control of one’s identity. Album opener “Run Run Run” unravels as a headnod-inducing, instantly hummable tune, across which the resolute Lowe navigates—and ultimately flees—an imbalanced relationship plagued by an obstinate partner with a penchant for deflection and irrational expectations. The soulful, atmospheric “Who’s That Girl?” explores the importance of introspection and self-possession, with Lowe reflecting “You don’t even know your truth / what you choose to see? / Think it’s judged by how you look / it’s only skin deep.”
The stripped-down first half of “Woman” glides gorgeously across lush piano flourishes before segueing into a crunchier, percussive groove. Echoing the sentiments that Madonna expressed in her 2001 hit “What It Feels Like for a Girl,” albeit in more eloquent fashion, it’s arguably the album’s most powerful and defiant moment, as Lowe lays bare the challenges of overcoming her own and other people’s rigid expectations in order to “stay a proud woman.”
Although the filler-free Control is full of highlights, the shimmering, piano-driven “Worry Bout Us” remains the standout track, with the thrilling buildup and heavenly beat drop at the 1:20 mark still sending shivers down our spines each time we hear it. Beyond its obvious sonic splendors, it’s a thoroughly relatable examination of vulnerability, doubt and fear in relationships, with Lowe going to great lengths to reassure her partner whose confidence has been compromised.
Other rewarding tracks include the soft and sparse clarion call to a friend struggling through a destructive relationship “Nicole,” the melancholy lament for a lover relinquished too soon “Right Thing,” and the terrific title track, which, more than any other song here, showcases Lowe’s vocal prowess and versatility.
Last month in our 2016 new music preview, we wrote that Control is “unequivocally the debut album we’re looking forward to the most this year.” Much to our delight, Control not only lives up to our expectations, it transcends them. It’s truly a divine album and surely a harbinger of many more wonderful things to come from the supremely talented, undeniably charming Rosie Lowe.