Before I start, I’ve seen a couple of people saying that the new Frankie Cosmos LP is a more ‘mature’ record than previous efforts, as if this were some kind of good on its own. I’d dispute this for a couple of reasons. For one, if we’re talking about it having an “Adult’ sound, it doesn’t, it really doesn’t. It sounds a bit more polished, the harmonies have been worked on a bit, but the basic essence of a Greta Kline song remains much the same. She really hasn’t turned into REO Speedwagon and I’m unclear why it would be a good thing if she had.
But also, the idea that her records were somehow especially adolescent to begin with is a bit of a red herring anyway. Yes, I guess she comes across as a slightly uncomfortable young woman trying to navigate her way through a difficult emotional maze and not always doing it so well. But isn’t that what everyone’s doing, however old they are? And honestly, does anyone ever get any better at it? I suppose someone must do but I haven’t met them (or perhaps I just got good at keeping out of their way). Greta Kline has the guts to speak up and turn her experience into great art that, I would guess, speaks across generations and certainly speaks to me, being a fair bit older (a generation? I’m not sure I’m prepared to admit to that just yet). So yeah, mature? She was always mature, some people just don’t know what it is, I guess. Or maybe I’m just underdeveloped and she’s coming up to meet me. Whatever.
Anyway, coming on to Vessel, Kline’s basic themes of emotional insecurity, stuttering relationships and warm friendship haven’t really changed much and are worked through in as intelligent and relatable a way as ever. As she sings on ‘Cafeteria’, “sometimes I am weird and wrong”; I’m pretty sure everybody knows how that feels. But the important thing is whether she can turn those ideas into great songs and, as ever, the songs are terrific. “This Stuff” is pretty much impeccable, a deceptively simple lo-fi strum that sets the fear of sharing against a desperate need to be understood, before the chorus takes off on a soaring gorgeous harmony and the whole thing rounds up in about 90 seconds, changing everything in the meantime. Elsewhere “The Ballad of R and J” has an almost madcap charm, belying the sad tale of a love too self conscious to get its act together, whilst lead single “Jesse” is perhaps her best yet, a killer pop song that manages to evoke complicated feelings in such a way as to make them sound perfectly natural: “Oh to be a part of the scenery…for you to be a little bit scared of me”. These words have burned themselves into my soul. I don’t know how she does that.
If there has been a real change of approach I would suggest that the new LP is a little more scattergun in its songwriting approach. Whilst previous album Next Thing was pretty uniform in its basic two minute pop songs, Vessel shifts around more, looking back to her Bandcamp days at times. There are half formed vignettes, basic acoustic strums, a couple of barely begun 30 second song ideas; it mixes things up so that the album, whilst having less of an obvious flow, does have plenty of surprises and variation. Also, the addition of extra vocalists on “Being Alive” and the aforementioned “The Ballad of R and J” makes it feel like more of a true band project for perhaps the first time; it’s like Kline has become part of a cool nerdy gang, a bit like Peanuts but more neurotic.
But there is perhaps something of that in Kline’s whole approach, turning these painful emotional events into something that is not only relatable but that binds all her fans together in the experience. It’s easy to feel part of the Frankie Cosmos gang, confused, a little upset sometimes, but able to see the humour from the edge and taking strength from knowing that you aren’t alone. If you haven’t come on board yet, ‘Vessel’ is an ideal place to do so.