King Princess
King Princess | Credit: Collier Schorr (Supplied)

King Princess: ‘Hold On Baby’ Review – Shiny Pop Storytelling

King Princess’ ‘Hold On Baby’ is Music Feeds’ Album of the Week. Imogen Clark reviews.

When you hear an artist’s name frequently enough within music industry circles, and when the words spoken about that artist’s work are consistently and enthusiastically positive, it means they’ve worked hard to make themselves impossible to ignore. King Princess is a name I only began hearing over the last few months. But once I discovered I’d been missing out on King Princess, I was both mad at myself and hooked immediately.

King Princess – Hold On Baby (Zelig Records)

King Princess

Hold On Baby is King Princess’ second studio album and the artist’s songwriting has evolved in its brutal honesty since her debut, 2019’s Cheap Queen. Regarding Hold On Baby, King Princess said, “I want this album to give you all some strength in accepting ourselves; as chaotic as we can be… This album is for anyone who needs a sanctuary to be vulnerable.” Hold On Baby lives up to this mission statement.

From the soft, building pulse of opening track ‘I Hate Myself, I Want To Party’ to the 90s-inspired banger, ‘Let Us Die’, which closes the album, the record embraces the chaos of being human. There are zingers galore, such as, “It sounds like a song, but it hits you like a Bible”. These lyrical one-liners pepper the tracks and make you laugh, cry, or think seriously about breaking up with your partner and getting your shit together.

The best artists are those who defy the expected confines of genre. On Hold On Baby, King Princess is able to simultaneously be a shiny, extravagant pop star and a fragile, storytelling singer-songwriter. Her music – if stripped down to an acoustic guitar and vocal – would be right at home in the folk cafes of her hometown of Brooklyn, New York.

King Princess co-produced Hold On Baby with a number of prolific producers, including Mark Ronson, Ethan Gruska and Aaron Dessner, and the album uses both contemporary and traditional production references. The gentle, sparse soundscape of the ballad ‘Crowbar’the classic production of which recalls Tori Amos – is a contrast to the Flaming Lips-style guitar and synth tones on ‘Too Bad’.

The opening track throws back to P!nk-style early-2000s singer-songwriter pop, while ‘Sex Shop’ is a showcase in contemporary production techniques, with its heavily-edited vocal hook and electronic R&B-style drums. King Princess’ appeal is in her versatility, and her refusal to be only one thing.

King Princess – ‘Hold On Baby’ Album Manifesto

On Hold On Baby, King Princess’ voice manages to be both shakily uncertain and full of attitude at the same time. Her voice is modern and yet I hear in her tone the influence of Carly Simon or, in her softest vibrato moments, a late Roy Orbison. There’s a depth of personalities and moods, which felt absent in her previous work.

These layers of vocal complexity help emphasise the record’s message of unity through vulnerability. On her debut, Cheap Queen, I hear a distinct vocal effect – not fashioned by recording studio magic, but rather a stylistic vocal tone she’s created herself. But on Hold On Baby, it’s noticeably missing, making way for a rawness that brings believability to the stories being told.

While every artist must come from somewhere, evolving with each release as they further define who they are, this truer vocal tone is infinitely more interesting than the one deployed during her Cheap Queen era.

Hold On Baby is a stream of melodic, production and lyrical surprises. The artist executes a seamless marriage of confessional singer-songwriter and A-list pop star. It’s a tough ask to straddle both worlds and do them justice. But King Princess’ songwriting is just as emotive, with an artistic bravado just as Stan-worthy, as any of the artists currently residing in the top tiers of the global pop arena.

King Princess – ‘For My Friends’

King Princess’ Hold On Baby is out Friday, 29th July.

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