Caroline Rose

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Superstar Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Abandoning any lingering Americana affectations -- a sound that still bubbled to the surface on Loner, the 2018 album that finally brought her to a wider audience -- singer/songwriter Caroline Rose crafts a sly, steely concept album with 2020's Superstar. Rose's subject lies right in her title. Superstar is an album about ambition and stardom, about reinvention and redirection, about the allure of fame and its price. Strictly speaking, this material isn't new, but Rose is a sharp singer/songwriter who realizes how all the thematic richness lies in the details. It's a skill she demonstrated on her earliest, rootsiest albums, but on Superstar, it gains an increased resonance because she marries her lyrical concepts to glassy, neon-lit synth pop. Rose flirted with this sound on Loner, but Superstar is dedicated to the kind of knowing modern pop that lies halfway between the mainstream and retro nostalgia; it's pop in form yet unlikely to ever crack the Top 40, since its sensibility is too clever and crafted, emphasizing uncomfortable emotions over temporary pleasures. Rose is too smart to deny that pop is pleasure, though. Superstar teems with insidious melodies, glassy surfaces, and penetrating hooks, all the elements that add up to the kind of alluring dance-pop that sounds best after the sun has set. Buried underneath the gloss are a collection of songs that wrestle with the idea of whether there's substance within this style. Thankfully, Rose welcomes ambiguity in her songs, letting her lyrics cut against the sleek throb of her music. This tension lends Superstar its resonance: it's an album that admits that the darkest parts of fame are what make it so seductive.

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