Album Review: Pearl Charles – Magic Mirror

[Kanine; 2021]

“Have you ever stuck with something long after it was time to let go?”

Acceptance and surrender are often the toughest parts of growing up; after all, it’s not until we renounce to stubborn control that we can truly start to make choices. Pearl Charles, however, has not only mastered the process but also managed to make it work in her favour, alchemically sublimating inevitable maturation into 10 gorgeous new tracks she has gathered in an exciting new release. No wonder she considers Magic Mirror, her sophomore album that arrives more than two years after debut Sleepless Dreamer, to be her strongest yet.

If 2015’s EP You Can Change landed fresh, exciting, and unannounced like a newly-formed comet, then Sleepless Dreamer emerged with the resilience of an expected confirmation. Yet, despite being brilliantly achieved, the album felt somewhat tamed at times—as if Pearl Charles was testing the waters to see how and where she could push further.

Enter Magic Mirror, prompting us to dance along “decked in sequins or nothing at all,” as a press release fittingly describes it. We submerge, hypnotised, tuning into a frequency sweet and intense like LSD-laced sugar cubes strategically placed on the tip of the tongue, while the turntable gently spins to Bonnie Raitt, Todd Rundgren, The Stone Poneys, and Judee Sill.

The album embodies liberation in the profoundest of ways, a pondered life-changing move that is definitely not the product of naive hot-headedness. Led by warm and sparkly singles “What I Need”, “Imposter”, and “Take Your Time”, Magic Mirror is deliciously referential whilst refusing to remain stuck in a particular time and space that only exists in selective memory.

Coming from a signature sonic heritage that distinctly echoes the Canyon’s golden era while resurrecting its mythology for the 21st century, Pearl Charles shows in Magic Mirror a refusal to sit comfortably in an aesthetic terrain she knows all too well. As she updates her cosmic Americana to accommodate soft rock and disco, Charles reveals a refreshing certainty in her message and the way she wants to communicate it.

When formulating his famous Gaze theory, Jacques Lacan referred to the “mirror stage” as a fundamental step in the formation of our psyche: it’s only when we look in the mirror and recognise ourselves in the reflection (“I am me, but I am also other”) that personality development can happen. And, as a new world opens up for us, we become aware of the seemingly infinite possibilities of this fascinating unfolding; this perception simultaneously allows us to ground ourselves and project our dreams without limitations.

Magic Mirror evokes this insight. Self-reflective as the title suggests, the album appropriately comes about as Pearl Charles prepares to go through her Saturn return – that much-discussed astrological threshold so unavoidable (and often feared) that No Doubt even named an album after it – making it the perfect fit for a new period of her life. As transformation takes over and her approach to creativity changes, Magic Mirror shines boldly and brightly as the testimony of an adulthood that didn’t come at the cost of losing her spark of child-like enthusiasm. Pearl Charles has taken hold of that raw and bubbly energy, and skilfully turned it into a perfect silver sequin of her very own disco ball.