In a genius bit of track-sequencing Princess Chelsea waits until the mid point of her album, The Loneliest Girl, before she shares the title-track. The first words of the song are “Stuck in the middle / Stuck in the middle / Stuck in the middle between right and wrong…” This is just the kind of situationism that distinguishes Chelsea Nikkel from her peers. Everything here unfolds in a scheme that elevates the attention.
‘The Loneliest Girl’ brings details of dancing in a disco whilst being trapped in a love triangle. This is no ordinary tryst. Princess Chelsea isn’t speaking of a desire for another’s flesh. Her mind is on her work. She is distracted from the ‘now’ and the attention of her love. Again, the nuanced approach to messaging means Nikkel relies on her audience to join the dots. This track, this album, pivots at the place where the creative impulse, or the work ethic goes wrong; where the drive becomes destructive. Ironically, of course, an alchemy happens and Princess Chelsea turns the corroded elements into something like gold.
This is the third album from Nikkel working as Princess Chelsea. There’s an authority here that allows for an eclectic range of instrumentation. Where other artists may temper ambition to mix rock riffs with cheesier synth patterns, sparkling pop moments and confessional lyrics, Nikkel sees all of this as the whole. Her ability is best experienced in the balance between content and form. If the mood of a track demands a certain sound, that sound is made by the instrument that does it best. No one is going to restrain the shape-shifting impulse. Musically then, The Loneliest Girl, gathers together textures, it breaks templates, and it toys with expectation. Usually, the concern for this kind of album would be that focus gets frayed at the edges. Don’t worry though – the vision is crisp.
The sardonic approach to lyricism is still felt in certain moments, “I Love My Boyfriend” is a track that smiles sideways, but there’s a new directness here. Yes, we experience double-meanings, metaphors, and the kind of poetry that demand some work of the listener – but Nikkel has progressed beyond the cleverness of things. She has arrived at a kind of wisdom that few accomplish.
There are moments where an explicit narrative takes over. “All I need to do”, closing the sequence, directly references one of Nikkel’s heroes while the synth-and-drum bed pays homage to on Springsteen’s ‘My Hometown’. This thing reads like a confessional – a collapsing of artifice to produce the measure where Nikkel explains herself away. She’s made sacrifices because music is one of the few meaningful things in her life, and yet imposter syndrome has her believing that she’ll never be as good as her heroes.
It’s in ‘All I Need To Do’ that Nikkel references the expectation of her parents. Her parents here represent the older generation’s presumption of what’s right for a young lady. The desire for a female to produce children is nodded toward. Here’s just one of the sacrifices assumed of women, even now. How can you possibly want ‘that’ and not ‘this’? Of course no harm is intended; feminism didn’t pass them by, but still… there’s a projection that Nikkels navigates. A bigger truth is pursued, and it’s brilliant.
If Princess Chelsea devalues her own work against the extraordinary standard of Springsteen’s songcraft she should pause on ‘Respect the Labourers’. Nikkels concern for the blue-collar workers is metered out well. The empathy felt for humans “Doing all the things that we would not” is genuinely affecting. It’s 4am and we’re watching men fix broken pipes beneath a city. It’s how we speak to those who serve us that shows how developed we are, and Nikkel levels the field with extraordinary grace. The Boss would be proud of this passage, and the parallels that are drawn.
There are couple of instrumental tracks here, which carry their own private language. Album opener ‘The Deer With The Golden Lights’ offers a dreamlike sense of what could be coming soon. Almost operatic, there’s a boldness to this thing. But it’s ‘Cigarette’ that will delight longtime fans. An apparition, an abandoned manor house… this thing has a feeling of deserted elegance. An homage to her own track “Cigarette Duet”, which elevated the artist, and then snared the world’s perception of her as 41 Million YouTube views continue to tick upwards, is offered here. It’s part of the fabric, but it doesn’t define the rest of the sequence. Again, a genius bit of playfulness.
It would be remiss to let Jonathan Bree’s appearance on ‘Good Enough’ pass without notice. Lending vocals to a verse which describes a girl as being “…good enough…” before staying inside with each other all day, Bree plays with the crowd’s perception of his influence on Nikkel. Bree, as always, has a solid measure of things. He keeps his appearance brief. And so should we.
It’s her dismantling of the work ethic, and the drive to create, that has led Princess Chelsea to arrive at The Loneliest Girl. Her deconstruction of each element will be sure to confuse fans who may expect a straight pop album. Fans of Princess Chelsea expect better, and on this album she delivers beyond those expectations. This shit is great. Subtle, subversive, poetic, and just the right amount of imbalance. Listen to this album, and you’ll hear Pop music level up.
HURRY – BUY – PRINCESS CHELSEA MUSIC
PHOTOGRAPH BY ADAM CUSTINS