So there’s this guy that's so in love with a girl that he can’t even imagine her naked. She makes him sick when she’s around; forces him to throw slurring drunken tantrums, perform circus stunts to get her attention and fuck his friends around. Anyway, one night he nods off and dreams one of those picture-perfect reveries where they're both asleep in his bed – tangled together like two lengths of string.
When he wakes up, he feels like Christmas – like everything he dreamt last night actually happened – and so the next time he sees her, he comes up from behind and plants a pillow-kiss on her collarbone. Of course, then she turns around, thumps him in the face and runs off. And that is the end of the subject.
"I was just pretending"
Rosie Thomas is a fantasist; a doe-eyed romantic in pigtails and pink ribbons, who rambles through dream and reality as if she can't tell the difference. As though they’re the same thing. Though the lingering, love-bitten lullabies that make up this record sing of real-life relationships, the longing and hope she fills them with make you wonder whether she's living them, or just imagining.
But if that’s the case, then make-believe's never sounded so beautiful. 'Only With Laughter Can You Win' is Rosie's second album, and while her debut 'When We Were Small' was a pleasant, plain-jane strumathon, here the wallpaper-acoustics are replaced with humming harmonics, empty-concert-hall atmospherics and sparse, one-note piano playing.
It all creates an uncluttered canvas, allowing Rosie’s coy, cotton-soft, weeping whisper of a voice to do her songs justice. And what songs! Iron & Wine's Sam Beam adds his bluesy whispers to the lovely folksy lament of 'Red Rover;' 'I Play Music' is full of "this is who I am" vindication; 'One More Day' is a dew-eyed mourning of missed opportunities; and 'All My Life' meanders into a mesmeric true-love confession.
There are countless criticisms to be made about this album, but I won't be making them. Sure, you could say that her songs are just Christmas-card sentiment, swathed in syrupy arrangements, but this ignores the bravery of such heart-sleeve explicit lyrics, and the courage of not retreating into the kind of oblique emotioneering practiced by the likes of Beth Orton.
What we're left with is music that's made not by some studenty intellect, half-baked fashionista or style-mag subscriber, but a human. A human being who hurts and laughs and longs, talks in clichés and cries at crap movies. A human being who loves, cries and lies; who runs out when reality gets too tough, into some postcard-pretty world of her own; who is capable of producing such a fragile musical love-heart, full of warmth, hope, naivety and denial.
This is Rosie Thomas. Now close your eyes and just pretend.
8Neil Robertson's Score