Album Review: Rabbits on the Run by Vanessa Carlton
Very Good, Based on 4 Critics
PopMatters - 80 Based on rating 8/10
Vanessa Carlton has had quite the uneven run in the music industry. At the age of 22, she was signed to a major label, had the No. 1 song in the country (the completely-inescapable-in-2002 “A Thousand Miles”), and a platinum album, Be Not Nobody, which soared on the strength of meticulously produced, piano-driven pop songs. But two disappointing (commercially and stylistically) albums, two label changes, and two years in seclusion later, and Carlton’s search for a suitable home and fertile artistic ground seemed to have come to a close.
Nearly 10 years after her inescapable debut single ”A Thousand Miles,” Carlton is still working the same delicate vocals and pretty piano riffs, as evidenced on this collection of ethereal, Starbucks-ready ballads. The 10 tracks from Rabbits on the Run fall into two categories: songs solidly within her patented brand of Enya-leaning pop (see: whimsical stunner ”Carousel,” the album’s lead single) and those that sound like modernized Gregorian chants (the celestial ”In the End”). The effect, however, is rarely divisive; instead it conjures up a lovely sort of melancholy magic.
Conscious or not, Vanessa Carlton submerged herself in all things British for her fourth album, Rabbits on the Run. She recorded the album with Doves producer Steve Osborne at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in England, and the songs were reportedly inspired by the writings of Stephen Hawking and Richard Adams, whose fantasy novel Watership Down is evoked in the album’s title. The influence of Hawking’s theories about the Big Bang and event horizons isn’t exactly apparent upon first listen, but many of the songs, largely written and recorded when Carlton was in the final throes of her Saturn return, reflect a certain existential anxiety and the letting go of childish things: the titular rabbits on the run in the album’s opening track, “Carousel,” represent life’s ephemerality; “I Don’t Want to Be a Bride” expresses the singer-songwriter’s fear of shattered illusions; waiting for saviors is deemed futile on “London”; and so on.
Shifting to indie Razor & Tie after a four-year hiatus following her 2007 album, Heroes & Thieves, Vanessa Carlton turns inward on her fourth album, Rabbits on the Run. Embracing all the spectral elements that ran underneath the surface of her music, Carlton avoids any of the surging orchestrations or any suggestions of cheer, spending long stretches of the album alone with her piano, and when the arrangements are fleshed-out, they’re done so subtly that it often seems as if she’s singing alone in the studio. Even if it has the effect of turning Rabbits on the Run into something of an unintentional Tori Amos homage, it’s an appropriately austere setting for Carlton’s melancholy introspections, ruminations that don’t offer any easy way inside.