Album Review: Ladyhawke – Anxiety

By on Wednesday, 6th June 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

I’ve been having a difficult time with second albums. This, unfortunately, includes the new one from Ladyhawke, called ‘Anxiety’. Couldn’t have a more appropriate title, as I came of age in the blogging world with her self-titled debut album, buying it from a Fopp’s in Nottingham, on the relaxing day before I had a baptism by fire covering her, Patrick Wolf and Dot to Dot headliners Friendly Fires at Rock City. What I loved about ‘Ladyhawke’ was the dance floor-ready tracks, heavy with synths but not in a heavy-handed way. This was an album to be sung along to, to be danced along to, to enjoy again and again and drunk up like the summer of 2009 from whence it became popular.

So the news from NME that the new album ‘Anxiety’ was in a more rock-oriented fashion, in what seems to be an early move in an overall backlash towards the dance synth sound of the last 3 years, I was crestfallen. However, because of my love for her debut album, I was determined to give Pip Brown’s latest a chance. The title comes from Brown’s own diagnosis and coping with Asperger’s syndrome, which she has described as making it impossible for her to deal with real life unless she takes her anti-anxiety medication; this is explained specifically in the lyrics of the title track.

The first indication things would not be the same came in the form of Zane Lowe debuting first single ‘Black, White and Blue’ (review here). The guitars are more prominent and with gratuitious reverb, and yes, there are no dance synths, but that’s to be expected. The gamer in her probably likes the computer bleeps and blips, but I’m no fan. Along with several others, including like ‘Girl Like Me’, it’s the drums are nearly made obsolete, with tambourines and other percussive flourishes taking over the beat role. Lyrically, she has gone the simple route, which will probably make this album more popular in a widespread, as it will be easy to sing along to festivals. She implores, “please don’t go / I need your love”, in the chorus of ‘Sunday Drive’ (Watch it here; listen to it in the widget below.) Trite. Cringe-inducing. It’s stompy in the Nancy Sinatra fashion but instead a stalkerish one. “I can’t pretend to hate you / ‘cos I will always love you / And when you try to leave me / I run insane”: wait, what? I think I can safely say that all women reading this have been through some bad relationship patches, but the last thing I want to do is hear a winched up, faux-power pop song telling me – or maybe enabling me is the better sentiment? – and that’s it okay to be all moony over a guy who is trying to leave me? That’s for the film at 8, not what I really want again and again in an album. Also, what is going on with these random effects? Lyrically, the content isn’t forward-thinking; putting in spaceship sounds doesn’t automatically put the song into forward-thinking mode either.

Returning to album opener ‘Girl Like Me’, you want to root for the protagonist who is playing a game with a man who “between the devil and the deep sea / I saw you dancing / with a girl like me”, but the song is just too simplistic, you can’t expect it to be memorable. At first, I was thinking this album was her way to getting a lover out of her system. ‘Cellophane’ is a slower, oozier ‘80s-style number with an overused guitar key change, wondering if “if all those years we spent running away / we never knew / that it was meant to be”; I guess that one is for the nostalgic types.

But on second thought, this album sounds like a collection of Brown’s inner demons: “what will people think of me?” in ‘Vaccine’, being the other woman in ‘Girl Like Me’, “take me for a ride / show me how to hide / the voice in my head” in ‘Anxiety’, “I see them coming for me in the middle of the night” in ‘The Quick and the Dead’, “save your advice for another girl” in ‘Gone Gone Gone’. This wouldn’t be the first album to showcase someone’s internal battles and it won’t be the last, but is it done well? It makes sense that she couldn’t use the same kind of musical backing as her first record to soundtrack such heavy stuff. But do we want to hear it like this? Or at all?

I had a look at the lyrics to ‘Magic’, one of my favourites from ‘Ladyhawke’, and while they’re not going to win a Pulitzer, I liked them and think I gave her more free rein because of the dance beats. When you’re dancing, nothing really matters except if you can sing along to the chorus and the beats are good. The beats here are okay but nothing special, because mostly they’re not the focal point. Actually, that’s the main problem here. There doesn’t seem to be a thread tying any of these together. Songs sound circus influenced (see ‘Vanity’, with a melody and twinkly xylophone notes more appropriate for a fairground ride), like a downright sleazy stompathon (‘The Quick and the Dead’) or ‘, and

Perhaps the songs that sounds the most like ‘Ladyhawke’ are album closer ‘Gone Gone Gone’ and ‘Blue Eyes’. The former sounds like a far too late acknowledgement that hey, I’ve got problems, but I would have realised this eventually and broken things off, but instead you’re the one who chose to leave. (Passive-aggressive much?) ‘Blue Eyes’ would have been great, if only it didn’t have a “nah nah nah” chorus. Ugh. Then again, ask the My Chemical Romance fans, they’ve got no problem with that at all. Maybe I’m just being picky with lyrics? Readers, you tell me.

I’m likening this album to being in a haze, either on uppers or downers. It’s hard to focus on anything because without the rhythms to give you heart palpitations, ‘Anxiety’ plods along with no particular direction. I feel for Brown, I really do; it’s not easy being a public figure having been diagnosed with a mental illness, and I give her much credit for offering up her personal problems as fodder for pop songs. Problem is, I think she’s made an album that neither her ‘Ladyhawke’ fans will gravitate towards or will gain her new fans because come now, everyone knows how big ‘My Delirium’ was. I’m not sure how to class this album. Sadly, I was disappointed. Better luck next time, Pip. I will be waiting. Not sure if many others will be, though.

5/10

‘Anxiety’, the sophomore album from Ladyhawke, is out this week on Island.

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