I feel bad for Vanessa Carlton. She’s an amazing songwriter and yet she’s still known as a one-hit wonder. While the singer will openly admit that “A Thousand Miles” has been both a gift and a curse, her lack of mainstream success since the debut single has hardly been all her fault. [I blame everything on the baffling “White Houses” video. But that’s a whole other topic.] Following two excellent yet commercially disappointing albums (Harmonium and Heroes and Thieves) Carlton was ready hang it up the pop career and focus of other musical interests. Then slowly, starting sometime in 2010 she began to rethink her future and thus Rabbits on the Run was born.
Rabbits is a very dark and personal record. As Carlton describes in a clip about the album (below), the five main elements that shaped her creative process were producer, Steve Osborne, her drummer, Patrick Hallahan of My Morning Jacket, a childrens choir, analog equipment, and recording in England at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio. Hearing her talk about these elements with such passion created such anticipation, yet none of them delivered the expected “Wow” factor. The drummer is without character, the choir only appears on a few tracks and while their is a very unique atmosphere about the record (if you consider massive amounts of wet reverb atmosphere), I doubt that it couldn’t be recreated in a hundred studios stateside.
If Rabbits is truly Carlton’s dream scenario, then we must reconsider everything else in her catalog. The record is stark, almost minimalistic and lacks any of the pop hooks fans have come to love from her. “Carousel” is a great song, but not a great single. “I Don’t Want to Be a Bride” has a great personal message, but few will feel comfortable with the sentiment. “The Marching Line” is another great tune, but it’s heartbreaking to hear what feels like her exploring a white flag moment.
I’m happy that Vanessa finally frees free. With this being a completely independent project she was able to indulge herself without labels or industry suits looking over her shoulder the whole time. But with Rabbits, she may have gone too far. Hardcore fans will love the record and appreciate the lyrics and subtle musicianship. The people that still remember “A Thousand Miles” or “Ordinary Day” though, well, they probably wouldn’t even recognize Carlton now, and she probably likes it better that way.