New look, new style: Ashley Monroe shoots for a full-on rebirth with Rosegold. She dons pink hair on the album’s cover and dons electronic music on the album itself, both new guises that come as a surprise because Ashley Monroe doesn’t have a reputation as a chameleonic performer. She’s stuck pretty consistently to her image as a traditional country music star, both on her solo albums and with the Pistol Annies. Her consistent tendency is to lean on her exceptionally pretty voice to make her stand out from the crowd, rather than experimenting with musical forms like Kacey Musgraves has done, or expanding into ambitious conceptual territory as Miranda Lambert has done (on her double album The Weight of These Wings).
That’s not a criticism—Monroe’s vocals are such a strong asset that the simplicity of the arrangements with which she and her producers have adorned them on her albums have acted as amplifiers to this strength, augmenting the sincere beauty of her style.
But you can’t blame her for wanting to shake things up a bit, music-wise and image-wise. Which is where Rosegold comes in.
The pink hair is a sign of the sort of changes that she takes with the music: noticeable, but hardly wildly radical. Pink is still a delicate, feminine colour, after all, and her music also remains largely delicate and feminine.
The electronic effects are mostly used as subtle mood-enhancers to the still rather traditional song structures. They aren’t used abrasively, to distort or threaten the general prettiness of the melodies. Rather, they simmer in the background, creating a hazy, spacey atmosphere clearly influenced by Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour, and clearly hoping for the kind of crossover success that marked that album’s critical reception (it was finally a country album that Pitchfork recognised as worthy of their attention).
This creates a pleasant atmosphere with some nice moments. “Gold” gets the right balance between her vocals, synths that come bursting out with every pre-chorus, and otherwise rumbling, growling bass and drum tracks. It uses dynamics successfully to create interest in the production and Monroe’s voice within it, even if it’s nowhere near being a revolution in sound.
Another generally quiet number, “Flying”, uses subtle dynamic changes to compelling effect. It doesn’t really sound like flying—more like swimming around in electronic murk. But that just makes it more interesting, and the piano throughout successfully grounds it and makes it more approachable.
Other experiments are less successful though—the end of the album in particular meanders rather aimlessly, so that what should be the climactic mission statement of the piece, “The New Me”, fizzles out in anticlimactic fashion. What should be a triumphant, confident whole, a declaration of a new era of Ashley Monroe, therefore fails to fully come together. The album ends with the words “Now that I’m ready to love”, but the journey to that declaration doesn’t feel profound or well thought out across the album, seeing as most of the songs before it are also love songs (or sex songs). What is the journey that we’re supposed to have taken with Monroe, we’re left wondering at the end?
There’s also the issue that none of the songs particularly stand out—I mentioned a couple of nice ones above, but I wouldn’t be able to hum them for you now, even after having listened to them a few times. I had to play them again in order to recall and write about them.
Which is to say that a pleasant atmosphere is created throughout, a clear commitment to artistic change is declared, and the already dated synthesized drum machines (which sound like the sort from early 2000s pop) don’t detract too much from the aura of professionalism. But there’s no excitement in the words or the music, no sense of boundless possibility, which is the hallmark for artists who really succeed in changing their style mid-career, like on David Bowie’s Low or U2’s Achtung Baby, for instance.
Rosegold is an admirable effort, then. But there are no treasures to really hold onto amidst the generalized prettiness; there’s no gold to be found amongst the roses.
[Correction: This review has been updated after incorrectly stating that Pitchfork and Slant magazine have been unfair to traditional country albums, such as those from Ashley Monroe.]