With her most ambitious album yet, Lucy Rose strips back her sound to create something stark, intimate and genuinely quite staggering. This is how to make minimal-sounding music that keeps you enthralled. A huge triumph for the underrated singer-songwriter.
So that’s just about outlined my thoughts on No Words Left. I like it a lot, even though it’s a big step away from the elements of Lucy Rose’s music that have had me following her career for the last five or six years. This album is steeped in maturity and creativity and I can only hope it receives the praise that it deserves.
Lucy Rose’s third album, Something’s Changing, was released in 2017 and brought with it an audible shift in sound from 2015’s Work it Out. Gone were the bright electric guitar passages and pop-style production, and in their place emerged a more natural sound. Something’s Changing tracks included piano as a much more fundamental element and the amount of acoustic guitar rivalled her 2012 debut, Like I Used To. The production was more subtle and the tracks were slower and moodier.
What you find on No Words Left, then, is an extension of that. While much closer to its predecessor than Rose’s other two albums, No Words Left stands alone as a brave step into a new style.
The first thing I noticed about this album is the lack of percussion, which is missing through almost the entire 34 minutes. There’s a touch of tambourine here and there but that’s about it. Along with this, the electric instruments are largely absent too; there’s an electric guitar in places but it’s mostly replaced by acoustic and even the bass receives this treatment, being swapped for an upright for much of the record.
The instruments that dominate the sound are guitar, piano and Rose’s unmissable vocals. This allows the key compositional elements of the singer-songwriter’s style to direct each track, without being led astray by instrumental distractions. While this makes the record highly focused, I can’t help but miss those instrumental-based breakdown sections from her first two albums like in Red Face and Our Eyes. This is a small price to pay for the change of direction though.
While on the surface the album might sound quite sparse (particularly bearing in mind the instrument choices and usage) it’s actually a little more layered each new time you listen to it. The guitar, piano and vocals are clearly the fundamentals of each track but through clever and extremely subtle layering of other instruments including bass, background vocals and strings, these main instruments don’t sound quite so isolated. Each extra sound is used delicately and in extreme moderation and an example of this is towards the end of Solo(w), where a sax enters as subtly as a saxophone possibly can, to add another layer of intensity. Percussion is typically excellent at changing the dynamic of a track and building towards a crescendo, but No Words Left manages to do that without percussion – instead creating build-ups using strings and vocal layering (see Solo(w) again). These layers build a mystical, diverse and complex soundscape which leads to the conclusion that the production of this album is nothing short of beautiful.
Though the production is impressive, its the vocals that steal the show. The doleful new musical direction has been tailored perfectly to suit the soft nuances in Lucy Rose’s voice. While she’s more than capable of more dynamic styles of music, it is most impactful on tracks like Conversation, where you can hear every soft-spoken syllable. The lyrics, flowing with loss and reflection, are deftly delivered and there’s also a lot of vulnerability, as presented in Treat Me Like a Woman.
Rose also explores new notions in her songwriting; the structures are more unconventional and there are a fair amount of dissonant or irregular chords. Though there are 11 tracks, two of these are short instrumentals that help to bridge the stylistic gaps between Conversation and Solo(w); and The Confines of This World and Nobody Comes Round Here. I particularly like the bridge track of the latter pair; Just a Moment. It takes you out of the album for a while and creates a lazy, laid-back feeling. You can even hear a dog barking. It’s easy to imagine being sprawled on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon, idly plucking to the guitar melody, and I like that.
While most of the album is stylistically dissimilar to her previous work, Save Me From Your Kindness is probably the closest thing to a throwback that No Words Left has to offer. It has a more defined rhythm that somehow manages to be both a steady pulse and an offbeat sway. It’s also the only track to be led by an electric guitar. It’s my personal highlight of the record.
There is so much to like about No Words Left, from the way it blends dark intensity with docile calm, to the excellent vocal performances and its ability to reach surprising crescendos given the minimal instrumentation. It’s too different to Rose’s other three albums to compare, but it is absolutely one of the most honest, most intimate and most graceful albums you’ll hear all year.