Charlie Fink of Noah and the Whale has a new album out, his first as a solo artist, and after Woyzeck lets out at the Old Vic you can listen to Fink perform the album (also called Cover My Tracks) intercut with a play written by David Greig and performed by Jade Anouka.
The album is for the most part an inoffensive acoustic guitar led singer-songwriter affair, with pleasant music and slightly more interesting lyrics – the mythology of touring and the elision of the personal and physical journey features heavily in tracks like Anywhere You’re Going is on My Way and Give Me The Road. Across his time with Noah and the Whale Fink shrugged off his British accent and sings here with a fully transatlantic lilt, playing songs about Manchester while crooning with the distracted air of Bob Dylan and vowels of Paul Simon.
This is the musical background to David Greig’s play, largely a monologue from Anouka in which Fink makes brief conversational and ghostly dialogic interruptions. Anouka is on typically engaging form as a young hotel waiter who discovers a semi-successful frontman about to commit suicide when delivering room service. She’s had similar mental health episodes, and they bond over this and a shared love of weed.
At this point it’s worth noting that the gender and sexuality of the two characters is somewhat left up for grabs, working largely in second-person pronouns as the narrative does (these pronouns are slippery even across different blurbs for the show and the album). This is a pleasant thing to realise as the 70min performance unfolds, although the genders of Fink and Anouka give perhaps the least interesting and most stereotypical reading of Greig’s text: while both characters are bisexual, the male musician is the more emotionally dishonest and distant within their relationship. Anouka’s character by contrast is drawn briefly into his orbit, sings with him on an impromptu tour of bars and pubs, and is left devastated when he ghosts her and his family. The story of such a character balancing at the edge of a popstar’s circle of affection and interest might well be engaging, but when you have An Actual Popstar on stage, it is hard for Anouka to feel like the centre of the story, and not the vehicle for discovering where Popstar has gone and why.
The best song is ‘the hit’, I Was Born To Be A Cowboy – the only number which Fink and Anouka perform together. Pleasingly Anouka also appears in the video for this track. Popstar looks down on ‘the hit’, while the narrator shyly likes it, enjoying how it makes people feel. But Popstar is jaded with entertaining people and when the opportunity to make an album with the narrator arises he suggests that in this world of iPhones, where anyone carries a studio in their pocket, that the most powerful thing to do would be to leave a big album-shaped hole in the world, in history, in their careers. It’s a pat and strangely elitist message to emerge from Fink’s mouth during the evening, and presages even more pap towards the end of Grieg’s play – including some unpleasant romanticising of homelessness and mental health issues, and an unwavering belief in the seismic importance of this male songwriter’s journey – all of which left me rather hoping for a Popstar-shaped hole in the next monologue that Anouka turns her talents to.
Cover My Tracks is on until 17th June 2017 at the Old Vic. Click here for more details.