Pearl Charles reminds me of Weyes Blood – which is to say there is that throwback to the 1970s, to AOR and MOR but with the twist of modern vitality; a determined hipness that is never arch but which marks the work as more than just throwback; as its own thing. And where Weyes Blood’s Titanic Rising (probably my 2019 Record of the Year) was like some second coming of Karen Carpenter, Charles’ reference points are less dramatic on much of Magic Mirror. The spirit of Carpenter lives inside Don’t Feel Like Myself, both the arrangement and the lyric – but for the most part the feel is more sunny and Californian; 70s early Fleetwood Mac, Carole King and some lovely countrypolitan that isn’t a million miles from Linda Ronstadt (the title track is another Karen Carpenter moment though, beautifully so).
But the first thing you’ll notice – it’s unavoidable and glorious – is the influence of ABBA. Its an all but direct lift of Dancing Queen’s feel (less subtle than when Elvis Costello got the baking paper out for Oliver’s Army’s little piano flourish) that opens this record on a disco-tinged, upbeat and hopeful Only For Tonight which is both an album-starter and a weekend-starter. Just a wondrous pop song.
That 70s vibe stays in place across the trim 37-minute run-time of this filler-less/filter-less set of charming pop tunes, but the disco vibe drops down into a more soft-rock feel for much of what follows. What I Need is brilliant MOR country-pop, Imposter has a light funk strut to the backing but Charles’ voice basically tells a post-modern torch ballad and after the aforementioned Karen Carpenter-aping weepies that anchor the middle of the album there’s a vibe to All The Way that suggests how Olivia Newton-John might have sounded with Tom Petty in the producer’s chair and the Heartbreakers as backing band.
Cinematic and subtly glorious this is an album of defiant pop songs, nothing to fault here at all. It’s pretty much perfect. Seamless. Lovely. A record like this arrives once or twice a year at best and when it does it lives on my stereo for days and weeks and months.
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