Music review: Charlotte Church, Scala, London

3.00

 

Another sparse crowd greeted Charlotte Church at the close of a low-key tour, though the former child star beamed as she revelled in her new-found freedom. Having renounced her classical roots for leftfield DIY, the Welsh singer may struggle to convince rock fans of her worth, yet she retained the strength of character displayed to the Leveson inquiry.

That may prove necessary, as Church has still to settle on her own sound and may yet find that concept too limiting. Having performed for at her peak presidents and a Pope, Church ended up flogging her last album, 2010's Back To Scratch, on a TV shopping channel. From that unconvincing stab at adult-orientated pop, she has now moved to more oblique styles, having admitted to a blog recently her adoration of nineties post-rock. Last month, Church released the third and most disparate-sounding so far of a promised five EPs, edging from indie to combinations of brittle art-rock and sinister disco.

On uncompromising form, she began the night with two of the set's grimmest numbers, ponderous rhythms hammered by a pair of drummers and Church's wailing alarmingly close to the operatic goth-metal of the unmissed Evanescence. Then she broke into her first grin of the evening for the driving rhythm and strident vocal of 'Say It's True'. One of her most unaffected songs proved to be one of the night's highlights, though Church's more experimental swerves showed promise. With a five-piece outfit building from sparse, dubby arrangements to Foals-style dance-rock, Church was free to display her impressive control, on 'Sparrow' beginning verses as breathy whispers before unleashing anguished wails.

Apart from regular gulps of honey, she otherwise showed scant respect for the voice that sold millions, looping her own backing tracks and singing through a vocoder. Newer material showed Church exploring a more electro sound. One of several numbers that took several odd turns within arrangements, 'Little Moments' began as The xx-style reverie then accelerated to a frisky two-step beat before its thunderous finale. 'Entanglement', meanwhile, saw the artist at her most eccentrically Bjork-like, fitting for a lyric that riffed on quantum physics. This was still more digestible than the strained nurturing-love metaphor of 'Water Tower'. Witnessing her in music-lab mode was often trying, especially when you remembered she had the financial cushion to fail in public, though with her down-to-earth touches and avoidance of focus-group pop, Church was again the underdog railing against larger forces.

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