I first heard King Charles playing during the Positivus festival a few years ago. During that particular hot dusty mess of a music festival there were only a few acts I really wanted to see. King Charles wasn’t one of them. But after the first few songs I was hooked. His look was the good kind of strange, picture a Victorian era dandy stumbling upon a time-machine in his wardrobe and travelling to modern day with the whole lot. Hair down to his waist, pants up to his nipples, giving us waxed-mustache-regal-realness. His tunes back then, from his first album Loveblood, were quirky and catchy love songs perfect for listening in the summer heat. There was certainly style but it, dare I say, lacked substance to an extent with occasional cheesy lyrics and restless catchy melodies. Cheesy lyrics can be forgiven, though. Love is cheesy.
King Charles is the stage name of Charles Costa, 31-year-old West London singer-songwriter. His first album was released in 2012 under a major label and since then he has left the label to write the album about which he has said that he should’ve written it five years ago. Teaming up with Marcus Mumford under a new label resulted in Gamble for a Rose released in January of this year. This wasn’t the first collaboration with Mumford, they also had a successful single Brightest Lights featuring Mumford & Sons on Charles’ first album.
From the second track on we can’t deny the influence of Mumford. Not only are the folk rock arrangements very similar to Mumford & Sons’ own music, Mumford is heavily featured as a backing vocal through-out Gamble for a Rose. Animal Desires lets the listener know that although a bit more refined and toned-down, the old style is not something King Charles is completely leaving behind.
Choke is an attempt to cast a wider net for the listeners. The whole song is pretty generic but it’s not missing that familiar uneasy-sounding guitar in the background. King Charles has an ability to write catchy music but nothing about this song is very memorable. It could be a track on any folk rock album by absolutely anybody. That being said, it has a place on this album if just to show King Charles’ range as a musician because he has pointed out that his second album is a truer expression of himself than his first album.
The title track of the album is a beauty. Gamble for a Rose combines the new with the old. Melancholy, yet hopeful “Oh you know I'll wait for you; When I'm all alone”, this track is well suited to be the title track. King Charles’ new style doesn’t distract you from his lyrics like on the first album, making avoiding the overall cheesiness of the lyrics a bit harder but the song flows so easily I don’t even mind. The track features a guitar solo that is somehow hauntingly beautiful.
Oh with your hand in mine I may be burdened but I will never be broke
I guess you could call this song my gamble for a rose
St Peter’s Gate is unsurprisingly yet another lovesong, the lyrics speak about missing a woman that is away. The lyrics are his version of the awfully cliché thing people in bad romance movies say: “If you love her, let her go and if she comes back to you she is yours.” King Charles’ take on this:
Go away from me
Don't stray from me
Get away from me
But come home to me
The song is almost too haunting and vulnerable to fault it for its’ lyrics but ignoring lyrics when listening to music is like ignoring the taste of food – it may look good on the plate but it doesn’t leave a pleasant aftertaste.
Tomorrow’s Fool is the song that blends his melodic style, plucky guitar and strings in the background approach with a little dose of rock. The second half features a short but fitting guitar solo and we hear King Charles reassuring us that no sound of love will deafen him. The lyrics talk about a proud man trying to be emotionless:
Lord give me the strength to be
A man who could never be loved
Fearful, reckless, lazy, thoughtless,
Charmless traits betide my mind
The lyrics tell us he is struggling to stay macho in his actions and act like what people might describe as cold. It’s almost like he is trying to convince himself that no sound of love will deafen him again perhaps? He seems a bit too bitter for his age. He ends with the idea that although he might try, he is too proud to ever change.
I will be a fool today
I'm scared of what tomorrow brings
Tears will flow, I'll beat myself
But I'm too proud to ever change
New Orleans feels like what we’ve already heard from him but more grand and sweeping. It’s reminiscent of Love Lust from his first album. This is another track where we can clearly hear how big of an influence working with Mumford was. It could fit into the repertoire of Mumford & Sons quite seamlessly.
Carry Me Away is the track that made me fall in love with this album. It’s tender and haunting. King Charles has said that this is the first song he ever wrote when he was 17. Laidback, he lets his raspy and vulnerable vocals shine, beatifully complimented by his guitar. This track is certainly the highlight of the album. The live version doesn't have the strings but is just as beautiful.
So sing to the seven seas
All of the oceans far between
Carry us oh carry us away
I'm prepared to take my time
Let it go, let it go away
With Bright Thing King Charles brings us a bit cheesy yet ultimately enjoyable track. It’s melancholic but hopeful in nature.
If I'll let you into my heart I'll let you under my skin
And I'll chase you out just like I chased you in
If you don't know how to do how could you feel the blues
And you're gonna sing about love
Without singing about the blues
With In Silhouette King Charles leaves us with:
Time whispers when you're young
This won't happen again....
This feels like a pessimistic note to end the album on but it’s actually an inspirational song about how we are all just beasts of craving and Kind Charles reminds us to enjoy life for:
What's in colour now
will soon be in a silhouette, a silhouette.
Coco Chitty was featured on his first album but in a different light. This rendition of the song maybe gives us a glimpse of how he himself views his evolution. The track stood out on the first album but fits perfectly with the narrative and sound of this album. It is an appropriate closing track for the album, but in mind the credits start rolling halfway through this song, it doesn’t hold my attention for very long.
Ultimately the album is certainly proof that there is substance behind the style and fashion of King Charles. He managed to express his individuality in a more coherent way and this album doesn’t feel as gimmicky as his first but what we loved about him in the first place has not gone anywhere. About his first album he has said that his influences varied from Bob Dylan to Rihanna and Lady Gaga – he tried to take the best of all the genres he loves and fit them together. With this album we can hear a more focused approach and it is more of a flowing river than a stormy unpredictable sea. His first, LoveBlood, was quirky and bouncy but Gamble for a Rose is more refined and matured. This really is the album he should’ve written five years ago. All I can say is “Yass, Queen!”