After the uneven but very promising debut album Grey Will Fade, it was going to be interesting to see where Charlotte Hatherley would take her music in terms of development. The Deep Blue answers that question by decidedly veering away from her affinity to Kim Wilde, the Ramones, and other straight-ahead rock purveyors. Starting with the instrumental "Cousteau," the mood is set more toward the atmosphere of Pink Floyd's "Echoes," but, in keeping with progressive rock's habits (yes, that's the territory this album is closest to), that comparison alone would be misleading. What we have here definitely leans to the side of challenging music -- this second album shows a self-assured Hatherley setting up a panorama of unique song compositions with no concessions to lovers of power pop and the like (as seemed possible from her work with Ash and from her debut album). Then again, no wonder, given the members of her band: Eric Drew Feldman, who worked with Captain Beefheart, Pixies, and PJ Harvey, and Rob Ellis, also of PJ Harvey and author of solo albums steeped in avant-garde music in the vein of John Cage, Erik Satie, or Olivier Messiaen.
Recorded for the most part in Italy, the lyrical content of this concept-like album generally circles around the uncertainties of longing (specifically including fear in various forms), with the poetic imagery kept on the vague side, in keeping with the unconventional song forms, all of which makes for a challenging listen. Still, although some of the songs are more on the uncomfortable side (including the first few), the majority do have a clarity that makes them coherent and enjoyable, like "Roll Over," "Very Young," or "Dawn Treader" (co-written with non other than Andy Partridge of XTC). The last two songs provide a case in point: "It Isn't Over" is possibly the most pleasant song on the album, the closing song, "Siberia," is one of the less accommodating ones. Which of the two did Hatherley choose as one of the single releases of this album? "Siberia" -- no holds barred, as they say. So, depending on where one stands, one could say this is a classic case of "difficult second album," maybe even trying too hard to impress, or, if you like your music adventurous and original, a respectable show of self-assurance.