Changeling is, after three live albums, Camille O’Sullivan’s first foray into the studio. It’s a record ostensibly of interpretations, sprinkled with the enticing pepper of some self penned numbers. It starts with Gillian Welch’s ‘Revelator’, the plucking replaced by piano, but otherwise a faithful facsimile, until it explodes in screeching guitars and martial snares. Welch is all about the stripped back necessity of having nothing, a dustbowl sound of naked vocals and folk instruments, whereas Camille’s is more into stadium sized angst. “Queen of fakes and imitators” she snarls. I wonder if she’s having a kind of private joke with that one.
This is followed by the first of two Radiohead songs, ‘True Love Waits’, better know as a track Thom Yorke performs on his own as the closer to I Might Be Wrong, Radiohead’s live album from ten years ago. The simplicity is kept, the musicians are reserved, and to the background, washed in a reverb that makes them seem distant. As ever with Yorke, his beguiling simplicity with melody insures that an army of monkeys could be playing dustbins in the background and the vocal line would still be compelling. The other track is In Rainbow’s ‘Nude’, played with the same kind of roomy restraint. Camille lacks Thom’s sardonic slurping, which is probably a good thing as for all their avant garde studio alchemy, once you hear a Radiohead number stripped down to the bare bones, you realise that they just write terrific songs.
Attempting Arcade Fire’s ‘Wake Up’ (unfortunately not Rage Against The Machine’s song of the same name, could seem like a tricky one, but gone is the anthemic thrust of guitar, replaced by a tickled piano arpeggio. David Bowie, a long term Camille influence, gets a go next. ‘Lady Grinning Soul’, a hidden gem and the ultimate number on Aladdin Sane, is one of those tunes that Bowie tossed off so effortlessly back then, and it’s such a perfect slice of pop that it would difficult to do poor version of it. Bowie sings of an aspirational beauty, someone who will beat you at canasta, among other things but O’Sullivan sings it as less in thrall, more in a kind of sisterly admonishment.
Tom Waits pops up, of course he does – no-one embodies the soul of dilapidated, roguish cabaret like Tom. Camille’s ‘All The World Is Green’ bubbles with N’orleans horns and Ribotesque guitar plucking. There’s two Nick Cave numbers, a man not adverse to tortured theatricality; ‘Brompton Abbey’ from the Boatman’s Call, which features the greatest line in rock history: “hail: the Pentecostal morn.” The version here is reverent and measured, as if sung in the Abbey itself. ‘The Ship Song’ is a rather more literal attempt, an earnest torch song. Nick Cave writes a lot of these, though he always has the get out clause of his inherent malevolence to cut the cheese. Camille lacks that, which is, again, probably for the best.
‘Hurt’, by Trent Reznor is really packaged as an ersatz Cash, a bit like Jeff Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ is really a version of John Cale’s version. Like Cohen, Reznor has better songs, but I doubt Camille really needs to explore his ouvre to make her point. A cover of ‘Closer’, also from The Downward Spiral, would be amusing though. Ultimately she has neither Trent’s self loathing nor Johnny’s seventy years of tribulations to pack into the song, and the inclusion of ‘Hurt’ is a kind of incongruous X-Factor emotiveness that feels as if it’s making an empty point.
Then there are the originals. ‘It Just Won’t Do’ is ebullient baroque stomp, with a ska-esque brass figure that wouldn’t go amiss on some Mark Ronson project. ‘These Days’ is Gary Lightbody penned and sounds it. Camille’s voice has more room for expression than Lightbody’s but there’s not much scope within the plodding to do so. She goes one further by doing Snow Patrol’s ‘Dark Roman Wine’ and once the stadium melodrama is removed, and a cosy plucking inserted, Camille improves the song but can barely raise it above a dirge.
The cover album’s naff apex was Duran’s Thank You, but it was brought back into the cool consciousness by Johnny Cash’s American series. Camille resides somewhere in between these. What she does do, however, is she inhabits her music, always performing, not giving it the kind of sneering condescension that makes Nouvelle Vague so odious. She respects the numbers she’s taken on here, perhaps on occasion just a little too much.