Album Reviews

Rose McDowall: Cut With The Cake Knife (Sacred Bones)

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Rose McDowall
Cut With The Cake Knife
Sacred Bones

Rose McDowall constituted one half of the legendary Scottish 80s pop duo Strawberry Switchblade. Though they released a handful of singles, they would release but one full-length album before disbanding. When Jill Bryson left, though, McDowall briefly continued on under the  Strawberry Switchblade name, before moving on to other projects. Before she did, though, she started work on a second album but soon abandoned it for newer projects. Cut With The Cake Knife compiles demos and recordings form that era, giving the long-patient Strawberry Switchblade fans an official release to these recordings, which were previously released as a super-limited edition Cd-R ten years ago.

Cut With The Cake Knife is a deceptive record. McDowall’s voice has an innocent, little-girl quality that, when tempered with the synthesized drum beats, sounds like perfectly executed ear candy, pop music for the consumer. But scratch the candy-coated glaze, and you’ll find a record that is dark, dark, dark. But it’s a darkness that’s never quite direct, except, perhaps, on the melancholy “Soldier” and the vicious-from-the-start title track. Where it’s not dark, it’s somewhat heartbroken, with “Wings of Heaven” taking the ‘happy sad’ approach to create a catchy song to dance to whilst weeping, while “Tibet” is a grey little number about her best friend moving far, far away, and the longing she’s going to miss when he leaves. It’s a sweet, innocent song, a fine little pop number that says so much.

Cut With The Cake Knife features two additional tracks, which appeared on a single in 1988. It’s a cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” and its b-side “Crystal Nights.” Her take on the classic BoC number replaces the guitars with a jazzy synth rhythm, and the results are simply wonderful; looking into the abyss, she sings with a happy abandon, as if the Grim Reaper was a boyfriend she was dying to see. “Crystal Days” might not have the heft as the a-side, but that’s okay, it’s a lovely indie-pop number in its own right.

McDowall would quickly abandon these recordings, while going on to work with such luminaries as David Tibet, Boyd Rice, Genesis P-Orridge, as well as with her band Sorrow. Cut With The Cake Knife is a wonderful document of a young woman in transition, coming into her own as a musician, and plotting her future even though the future seemed uncertain.

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