Boldly continuing her artistic reinvention Vanessa Carlton has allowed new influences to seep into her contemplative piano pop. “Blue Pool” holds the middleground between her introspective direction of the last two albums, with a more profound Tori Amos influence. “Blue Pool”, and its companion album, have stronger links with Carlton’s pre-“Be Not Nobody” demo recordings than of her other major label albums. The dreamier aspects of “Blue Pool” are reminiscent of the first two Florence + the Machine albums.
“Blue Pool” is the first batch of new material since “Rabbits On the Run”, and it is meant as a precursor to a new album called “Liberman”. The EP largely follows the direction of the preceding album but the material is stronger all around. Carlton feels more comfortable in her new direction, and the songs reflect that confidence. In the years post-"Harmonium" years anessa had been steadily shedding most of her overt pop trappings in favor of a contemporary return to what she did on her demos. Carlton’s current direction is focused around the same kind of minimalism, introspective atmosphere and absence of ear worm pop hooks.
No longer restricted by commercial considerations Vanessa is now writing music that plays up to her strengths. The absence of any notable pop hooks allows her to further explore her low register vocals that always were superior to her often nasally high register. Having forgone hooks in favor for more resonating material the tracks on “Blue Pool” are more languid and pensive than anything on “Rabbits On the Run”. Some will probably decry the lack of instantly recognizable hooks and the inclusion of folk melodies instead of regular pop ones. In drawing from a variety of influences, and taking her music back to its roots, Carlton now sounds more confident than ever. The minimalist arrangements of her demo songs were lost as the production values of her early albums increased.
Vanessa underwent a similar artistic evolution as her contemporary Michelle Branch. Both started out as bright-eyed pop stars that appealed across demographics. Branch would cut two light pop albums before breaking with the industry that forced her into directions that weren’t her own. Branch eventually briefly reinvented herself as an alternative country singer. Carlton on her part reconnected with the Tori Amos influenced direction of her demos to shape the sound of her future. “Blue Pool” fuses Carlton’s past with a dreamlike direction wherein her future may very well lie.
By adopting light electronics and infusing her piano-pop with ethereal soundscapes Vanessa now simultaneously sounds vintage and contemporary. Some of the electronics wouldn’t feel out of place on a Casey K. or Polaris Rose effort. The dreamier, ethereal aspects recall the first two records of Florence + the Machine. The basis for the songs is still Vanessa’s voice and her stellar piano playing. No longer bound by big label pressure, and producing her own releases, Carlton has liberated herself from the pangs of commercialism. “Blue Pool” is the realization of a sound debuted one album prior. It is the completion of the transformation that “Rabbits On the Run” merely hinted at.
Like “Rabbits On the Run” before it the “Blue Pool” EP was recorded at Real World Studios in Wiltshire, England with Steve Osborne producing. As with any of Carlton’s self-produced efforts the production work is stellar. Even though her albums have lost some of the gloss of her A&M and The Inc. output Carlton’s voice, both literal and artistic, has never resounded clearer through out her work. On “Blue Pool” Vanessa is comfortable with the direction she has chosen for herself. While she might not have graced the world with another ‘A Thousand Miles’, or even a 'White Houses' she’s now closer to the direction of her demos than she ever was before.
On her fourth album “Rabbits On the Run” mainstream hopeful Vanessa Carlton underwent a staggering artistic transformation from bright-eyed piano pop star into something altogether more interesting. “Rabbits On the Run”, Carlton’s fourth record on her third label partner, was the first manifestation of her artistic reinvention and resurrection into an indie artist. "Rabbits On the Run" that saw her pursuing a more introspective and contemplative direction. “Rabbits On the Run” is only partly succesfull insofar that Vanessa Carlton had yet to find her voice. Less accessible and more idiosyncratic than any of its immediate predecessors, the album heralds a new era for Carlton as an artist in more ways than one.
As an artist Vanessa Carlton has come a far way since the early days of ‘A Thousand Miles’, and she has managed to keep both her soul and integrity intact, even if it came at the expense of mainstream popularity. “Rabbits On the Run” shows the world a darker and more contemplative Vanessa Carlton. Obviously Carlton is less concerned with writing the next big pop hit with this album, and more interested in creating meaningful art. To date it is the only album in her catalog to not feature a photograph or an illustration from Vanessa as it frontcover artwork. The rabbits on the frontcover were drawn by illustrator Joe Radcliff. Despite missing visual continuity with its major label counterparts “Rabbits On the Run” is a far more profound and less poppy record.
“Rabbits On the Run” starts off in familiar territory with ‘Carousel’, an upbeat pop song in tradition of ‘A Thousand Miles’. The track builds towards a climax that is never capitalized upon. It is from this track that the album took its title. The keen listener with notice the difference in vocal stylings that are more folk inspired. While Carlton retains her “Harmonium” register the vocal lines are less obviously hook-oriented and outright poppy. ‘London’ is a serene pop song stylistically closer to “Harmonium” and “Be Not Nobody”. ‘Fairweather Friend’ sounds familiar as it partly reuses a melody from album opener ‘Carousel’. ‘Hear the Bells’ is a stylistic precursor of Carlton’s future direction with “Liberman” and its companion “Blue Pool” EP. Everything that would come to define Vanessa’s new direction, musically as well as from a production standpoint, are first introduced here. Notable is that the second part of the album is darker than the first.
The record feels greatly inspired by Tori Amos, and the more introspective later works of Norwegian singer-songwriter Lene Marlin. ‘Carousel’ for the most part recalls her earlier work but the tempo is notably lower. No longer forced into high register vocal lines Vanessa’s more comfortable with her range than ever before. Tracks like ‘London’ and ‘Fairweather Friend’ play up to her range and timbre as a singer. Usually the sparser the arrangement the stronger Vanessa’s vocals come across. A lot of the song arrangements form callbacks to Carlton’s minimal demo material. On “Rabbits On the Run” the dreampop direction that she would later take manifests itself only on a few tracks, most notably on the introspective ‘Hear the Bells’ and ‘Tall Tales For Spring’. The absence of any notable hit singles makes the album all the more potent in its artistry.
The album went through an extended pre-production phase, and working titles for it were ‘Tall Tales For Spring’ and ‘Fairweather Friends’ before settling on the current title. It was produced independently by Carlton and only later sourced out to a label for wider distribution and marketing. Initially ‘I Don’t Wanna Be A Bride’ was suggested as a second single, but ‘Hear the Bells’ got the treatment instead. “Rabbits On the Run” saw Vanessa abandoning her nubile piano girl image, from this album onward Carlton opts for an almost Jex Thoth-like wiccan/flower girl look instead that becomes her. By forgoing the image she was forced into by her label partner Vanessa is now is freer in every sense to decide her fate. The choices on this album are hers and hers alone. In many ways “Rabbits On the Run” harkens back to the days of her “Rinse” demo album.
For the first time Vanessa traveled to Europe to record an album. After a long search for the most inspiring studio environment Carlton eventually decided to record at Real World Studios in Wiltshire, England with Steve Osborne producing. Independently financed by Carlton herself and later licensed to Razor & Tie for wider release “Rabbits On the Run” is a labor of love that sounds as fantastic as all of Vanessa’s albums. Observant listeners will notice that the production is slightly less glossy than her previous three major label albums. What the album lacks in textural gloss and visual flair it more than compensates by the sheer honesty and freedom it allows its creator. With no label – or industry pressure to smother her creativity Vanessa finally could unleash her inner artist. It would be several years until that would come to pass…