Self-love, in this day and age, is radical after all.
Lovers rock and roots reggae battled it out over lyrical content and heart. Roots got you a dose of rebellion, lovers rock was polished schmaltz for late-night excursions. The later might have been seen as a pop crossover, but the two fused and melted together well. After all, you’ll need lovers to get you through the revolution. And Hollie Cook combines the two effortlessly, along with dub, to create a cocooning sound and sneakily radical album with Vessel of Love.
Cook has quite the pedigree. The daughter of The Sex Pistols’ Paul Cook, her mother, Jeni, was a singer for Culture Club, her Godfather is Boy George and she got her start in a late incarnation of ferocious U.K. punk legends The Slits. Costing would be an acceptable life choice at this point, especially with three well regarded solo albums under her belt this decade, but Cook clearly has too much ambition to lounge on her laurels and ancestry.
As the “Octopus’ Garden” album artwork suggests, there’s an aquatic nature to the production. The choppy guitar work seems filtered through lapping waves. The horn arrangements have tasteful amounts of reverb slathered on, making them seem beamed in from another time. Her mom’s influence shines through with the fluttering harmonies that follow Cook on most of Vessel of Love’s choruses.
The BPM aims for swaying, calmer tempos, but rarely wades into full comatose mode. And it’s better for it, thanks to Cook’s need for just a bit of fire in her music. “In darkness we shine/Trying to stay alive” she sings on the appropriately titled “Stay Alive.” The political messages aren’t terribly direct, and Cook looks to heal rather than start a fire.
That may annoy some, but Vessel of Love acts as a sanctuary from the woes of the wider world. It swaddles the ears and, even with the meandering rhythms, it never becomes monotonous. Cook clearly has a taste for the exotic, stuffing the margins of her work with strange detours. The buzzing melodica on “Ghostly Fading” is at turns bewildering yet perfect. “Survive” starts with a ‘80s synth-wave melody before falling into a dubby bounce and closer “Far from Me” is a surprisingly dark turn to close a bubbly album. Best of all is the hallucinogenic “Lunar Addiction,” relying on a strange interplay of a dub groove and morphing, nearly Pink Floyd-ish, guitar and synth work. It sounds like a Caribbean version of Seattle R&B aliens THEESatisfaction, as bewitching as it is befuddling.
“Take me away from it all” Cook sings, mentioning a total lack of gravity and reality, unable to penetrate her undersea kingdom. For her, lovers rock isn’t just about lust (though there’s certainly plenty of that here). Instead, her version centers on the love of care and kindness, whether from another or from the self. With her voice, roots reggae and her poppier sensibilities are obvious twins. Self-love, in this day and age, is radical after all.