Civil rights activist Tarana Burke founded “Me Too” in 2006, fire-starting a movement that would take down dozens of industry titans guilty of misogyny, sexual misconduct and abuse against women, most famously movie mogul Harvey Weinstein who last month was sentenced to 23 years in a New York State prison on charges of sexual assault and third-degree rape. But it was Rose McGowan who was among the first to sound an alarm and point it towards Hollywood.
An actor known from star turns in “The Doom Generation”(1995), “Scream” (1996), “Charmed” (2001 to 2006) and “Grindhouse” (2007) — to say nothing of her short-lived engagement to Marilyn Manson — not only did she speak out against Weinstein, McGowan castigated many a man for his connection to, or knowledge of, such abuse, and took no prisoners. Whether you liked her manner or not, she got the job done.
So how does that fire translate to music in the form of an album? Surprisingly, McGowan’s musical debut, “Planet 9,” demonstrates how much softer her voice has become.
Of her music’s origins, McGowan wrote on her website: “For a long time, I worked in a strange place called Hollywood. Being an actress was my day job, but behind the scenes I was honing my skills as a multi-media artist, writer and thought leader. After realizing I’d worked on sets for over 57k hours, I knew it was time to assert my own voice.”
Along with touting a short film she directed, and an autobiography she published, McGowan revealed having imagined “a utopian world in my mind” during childhood that she named Planet 9. “Life went on, and I forgot about how special my planet was,” she continued. “I forgot I could go there in times of trouble.” That was until six years ago when astronomers found a new planet near the offshoots of Pluto they named Planet 9.
Together with French electronic producer-musicians Punishment, Hot Sugar and DJ Falcon (the latter of whom produced Daft Punk’s “Contact”), along with TV on the Radio multi-hyphenate Dave Sitek, McGowan has compiled an oddly icy, hypnotic set of atmospheric songs — some tinny and grooving, others ambient and open — upon which the vocalist and songwriter whisper-sings lines meant to soothe, salve and space-shift.
Though sing-speak has been a thing throughout musical history — and long before the term ASMR made it to the public lexicon — McGowan’s aim is not of a sexual nature, but rather more fantastical. Her subjects are other worlds, be it physical or of the mind.
That she’s chosen a sleepy-eyed, baby doll-ish voice to do all that seems at odds with her position as a hardline freedom fighter. The softly throbbing electro track “Sirene,” for instance, starts intriguingly with the verse, “I know your truth / I know their hate / I know their lies / I know your rage” — its rhythm pulses adrift on a solar joy ride. The pillow-y “Now You’re Here” is a dreamy, slow-to-mid-tempo track with a handsome catchy chorus that finds McGowan on Mars, the object of her affection on Saturn, and together or apart — it’s confusing out here in the interplanetary ozone — they’re dealing with “golden suns” and “winged horse madness.”
Most of “Planet 9” follows this cotton-soft trajectory with curiously contagious melodies, dream-scape arrangements, tiny rhythms and dozy if over-produced vocals for maximum narcotic effect. It’s good, not great, and makes you wish McGowan had dragged in some of the cattiness of her cinematic characterizations, or even the hard line flintiness of her voice as an activist. As is, listless comes to mind.
Only three moments on “Planet 9” offer some tension and drama beyond its chilly pale. After a hauntingly dramatic piano-driven start, “Green Gold” kicks into a grooving electro arpeggio with an edge of “Blade Runner” terseness and wiry wit. As a wispy McGowan quotes from the Ridley Scott film’s dialogue — “attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion” and “C-beams glitter in the dark” — she adds her own take of love lost on another dark hemisphere.
Then there’s “Origami,” the tensest and most sensual on the album. Produced with Sitek (who also adds a genuine sense of menace, noise and, therefore promise, to the album’s opener “Canes Venatici”), McGowan’s metaphorical look at life folding in on itself takes on the mythology of Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve, “pirate ships,” “open legs” and life’s tiny mysteries while touching on its double entendre. She coolly cackles the line “Go deep, go hard, go tragic,” but some guts and gusto could have gone a long way here, no matter what planet she was looking to land.