Pip Brown has beaten her nerves and returned with heavier mettle
A lot’s happened since we last heard from Ladyhawke. There’s been a General Election. Plan B did the soul singer thing. Nicola Roberts released a solo album. Some genius made chocolate Philadelphia. All that and more has changed the UK’s outlook forever in the four years since New Zealander Pip Brown released her self-titled debut album. While it’s reductive to glance over what her 2008 synth-loving contemporaries are up to now, we’re going to do it anyway. Little Boots has moved from Human League to Italo disco. Lady Gaga’s gone global. La Roux introduced Skream to the mainstream. So where does this leave Ladyhawke? Holding all their coats after her extended break? Here’s the answer…
‘Anxiety’ took almost two years to make. Working with long-time collaborator and producer Pascal Gabriel, Pip’s ditched the synthy hooks of her debut and replaced them with a six-string guitar. There’s a lot of ‘full band’ action on ‘Anxiety’, with most of the instruments played by Pip. Strangely, these additions steer the album into college rock territory. Opener ‘Girl Like Me’ is a tale of betrayal with a Breeders slant, while its “[i]Between the devil and the deep blue sea/I saw you dancing with a girl like me[/i]” chorus shows a far more confident woman than the one tentatively reaching for a hand in 2008.
And confidence is an overriding theme on ‘Anxiety’, despite the hesitant title. It sees Pip brave enough to own up to flaws and fears, especially in the brilliant title track. She even addresses the deep-set anxiety issues that meant Ladyhawke couldn’t even chat to the crowd between tracks when she first started playing live: “[i]I’ve always been so cautious, but I’m so sick of feeling nauseous[/i]”. She’s gone from Stevie Nicks to Sleater-Kinney. Then there’s ‘Cellophane’, a stadium-sized torch song, which opens with, “[i]Don’t sleep tonight, we’re on the night train/To anywhere but here[/i]”. Triumphant stuff.
There’s a problem though, and it’s a biggie. The joy of Pip’s debut was that it sounded fresh, at the same time as sounding like you’d heard it on the car radio 10 times before. There’s nothing on ‘Anxiety’ so arrestingly new or comfortably familiar. Déjà-vu tracks like ‘The Quick & The Dead’ have half-remembered hooks, like a sibling’s cassette tape you could only ever hear in the distance, and Pip’s vocals veer between insouciant and distant. ‘Sunday Drive’ meanwhile just feels like a Rock Band version of her own song ‘Magic’. On these tracks, for an album that was such a long time coming, it feels like someone’s taken a shortcut.