Carré Kwong Callaway has been through a tremendous ordeal since 2018’s Love Me to Death – she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, her marriage to a rather famous rock star dissolved, followed by a period of homelessness. Working with producer and co-writer Joe Cardamone, Couples Only sees Callaway addressing her trauma head on and embracing the anguish and grief. While she doesn’t necessarily provide the listener with insight into whether this was a cathartic process for her, the earnestness of her lyrics and the robustness of the production gives the record a power akin to Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill if it were sung by the lithe voice of Lori Carson.
“I Know Who You Are” begins with an almost angelic shoegazing that is very quickly overtaken by a grimy bass tone and noisy guitars, Callaway’s layered vocal adding a very toothy and venomous bite that accentuates such accusatory lyrics as “You play the savior / I know that behavior.” Some songs swagger with a defiant energy almost erotic like in “Death in Reverse” or more especially in “Biggest Mistake,” which evokes a dark ambience in its throbbing bass and disconnected vocal accompaniment, the tone almost delightfully devilish and mocking. Others like “The Mourning Song” and “Stanley (RIP)” are more resigned and lament the futility of trying to see good where there likely wasn’t any, while Callaway’s almost exhausted statement of “I’m too old for this shit” resonates amid a sardonic harmony, bouncing rhythm, and fiery guitar, the words relating more a sense of pity than rage. And then there is the saccharine do-wop shuffle of “On the Run,” and the Bowie-esque rock of “Without You, Whatever,” with splashes of keyboards and strums of acoustic guitar complementing a strident hip-strutting beat, the song ending the album with the assertion that “I miss you when you were here, but I don’t want you back.”
There is a spontaneity to Couples Only that extends not only to the brusque poetry of the lyrics, but also to the immediacy of the music, with Cardamone and a contingent of notable contributors – including Roger O’Donnell (The Cure), Kristof Hahn (Swans), Elise Poirier (YUM), Laura-May Carter (Blood Red Shoes), and more – ably backing Queen Kwong’s poignantly haunted, often abrasive, yet controlled songwriting and performance. For the jilted and the dejected, Couples Only may provide just the right kind of emotional release, the assurance that such heartache can be endured.