“The House”


Ghosts, aliens and demon lovers lurk in “The House,” the fourth album by Katie Melua, the Soviet Georgia-born, Belfast-based singer-songwriter and pan-European star who is virtually unknown in the United States. The album, produced by William Orbit, the sonic mastermind behind Madonna’s “Ray of Light,” is a sharp break from Ms. Melua’s past.

Early hits like “Call Off the Search” and “The Closest Thing to Crazy,” written by her former producer Mike Batt, defined her as a folk-pop romantic whose witchy, girlish vocals evoked an unlikely hybrid of Kate Bush and Maria Muldaur. Dipping into the American songbook with renditions of “Learnin’ the Blues,” “Lilac Wine” and “Blues in the Night,” she also showed a facility for light pop-jazz nostalgia.

But the songs and arrangements on “The House” recast Ms. Melua — who will perform at Hiro Ballroom in Chelsea next month — as an arty girl gone wild. “I’d Love to Kill You,” one of four songs written with a new collaborator, Guy Chambers, is the fantasy of a would-be femme fatale whose kisses are lethal. The jaunty, ’20s-flavored number “A Moment of Madness” suggests an electronically embellished fusion of Brecht-Weill and the Mary Hopkin hit “Those Were the Days.” In the sci-fi daydream “Tiny Alien” she tries to communicate with an extraterrestrial.

The album’s most ambitious production, “The Flood,” a swatch of latter-day psychedelia, begins as a quasi-Indian meditation, with a sitarlike drone and morphs into an incantatory dance number whose lyrics describe breaking out of your own prison and untying yourself from possessions and “the weight that pulls you down.” It wants to be a 21st century “Tomorrow Never Knows” and more than halfway succeeds.

The intensity is leavened by the dreamy “Red Balloons,” in which heartaches float away on the breeze, and by a pure acoustic rendition of a Bill Monroe bluegrass ballad, “The One I Love Is Gone.” It all leads up to the title song, in which Ms. Melua secretly explores a house that might be her own unconscious mind, and discovers that indeed it is haunted.