On Planningtorock's first album, Have It All, Janine Rostron was a sassy firebrand, setting her self-discovery to a bold mix of glam rock, funk, cabaret, and dance music that played like a futuristic revue. Things are darker and more complicated on W, as she tries to reconcile falling in love with maintaining her own identity, and explores how to share herself without giving her sense of self away. The classical underpinnings of Rostron's music come to the fore, and her All Stringed Up EP and her work with the Knife on their Darwinian opera Tomorrow, in a Year feel like major influences on W’s orchestral drama. Indeed, the album’s chilly electronics and heavily processed vocals -- both of which leap out on the hypnotic opening track “Doorway” -- often feel more akin to the Knife than to Have It All. However, Rostron has always been theatrical in her own right, and while the grandiose scale and intricate instrumentation of tracks like the majestic but deeply weird “Milky Blau” and splashy instrumental “Black Thunder” recall Tomorrow, in a Year, their flamboyance is all Planningtorock. At first, it seems like Rostron left the playfulness that made Have It All so singular off of W's songs except the breathless, brainy dancefloor workout “Living It Out,” but her wit reveals itself slowly. On “I Am Your Man,” her androgynous vocals sound like she’s singing lyrics like “We’ll share our love of music while I lick you clean” from the viewpoint of a masculine suitor, but at the end Rostron sings, “Hey, me! I’m the right man for you!,” making the track a far more clever and creative statement of happy female singledom than a Right Hand Ring. Songs like this and “Janine” -- where she chides herself, “Janine, don’t go with those guys” in a distorted voice that could be a confidante or her conscience, or both -- are so honest in such an unusual way that they never sound self-obsessed, and that perspective carries to her songs about love. Her voice is huge but her words are fragile on “The Breaks,” where she warns a potential lover “don’t be seduced until you know my truth.” Elsewhere, Rostron uses W's more sophisticated palette to convey longing on “The One,” setting her passion to elegant strings and a saxophone solo, and expresses doubt -- something that wasn’t even in PTR's vocabulary before -- with “Going Wrong”'s creeping electronic textures. W isn’t as rousing as its predecessor, but it may be an even richer album; in its own way, it’s just as audacious.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares