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Neptune
Eliza Carthy Neptune
Released 6 May 2011
Producer(s) Dave Wah, Eliza Carthy
Label HemHem Records
Length 50:26
Genre Folk
Website www.eliza-carthy.com
71

It’s difficult to listen to Neptune without referring to 2008’s Dreams of Breathing Underwater. For those of you who were charmed by that perfect jewel of an album, you will not be treated again. Throughout the entirety of Neptune there is never a sign that 'Mr. Magnifico' will make a return. That brighter and much more whimsical world has been overtaken with something brasher, wiser, smarter and gutsier.

Album opener 'Blood on My Boots' dictates, rather than sets, the pace. A swaggering, Honky-Tonk carouse of spaghetti western guitars and Antony Hegarty vocals is soon joined by cooing backing singers and stamping percussion. It’s a sound that butches up into a trashy binge during later track 'Carpark'. It is this track that seems to hark back to Carthy’s English folk roots with the Watersons, with a lilted paean to the forests of England being tarmacked over to make NCP car parks.

The album isn’t entirely given over to this bare-knuckled new sound. 'War' and 'Write a Letter' are much calmer yet, even with the inclusion of her famed violin on the second of these, the sound is still distinct from the Eliza Carthy we thought we knew. She has done this before, of course: just consider the radical change of direction between the Glastonbury healing-fields of 1998’s Red Rice and 2003’s Anglicana (both Mercury Music Prize nominees). However, this is less a radical change between albums as radical changes between tracks. We are lulled by the downcast 'Tea At Five' only to be jarred by ska-inflected 'Monkey'. It’s as though she has tricked you into one mood only to duck aside, avoid the consoling arm you were going to place on her shoulder, and jeeringly skipped away. And what follows 'Monkey'? The lonely disco-ball of 'Revolution'.

Her 'Romeo', "smelling of whiskey and stout" eyeing up teenage girls at the station is as close as we get to 'Mr. Magnifico', it seems. In a song that see-saws from determined sadness to spirited break-up, her shape-shifting has now to occur within the skin of a single song. Her inventiveness never tires.

'Hansel' with its spry, child-catcher jaunt submits to closer 'Thursday', which brings down the curtain on an album with such subtle, wounded optimism that the opening salvo of 'Blood On My Boots' has been erased from the memory.

Smart, talented, witty and grounded: Neptune is a welcome addition to a body of work that shows no sign of stagnating.

- Paul McGranaghan