“The whole mantra of this record is about being fearless and not holding yourself back,” Alana Haim told NME last year. At the time, Haim – completed by her sisters Danielle and Este – had only released two songs from their third album (‘Summer Girl’ and ‘Now I’m In It’) but you could sense from that pair’s disparate stylings and sensitive, unguarded subject matters that the LA band had stuck to that idea.
Some seven months and one coronavirus-induced setback later, ‘Women In Music Pt. III’ is the result of that approach – one that’s brought about Haim’s best album yet. It’s bold and brave, but delivered with such confidence and chill that it doesn’t feel like a risk. It captures everything that the world knows and loves about the LA group – their nods back to classic rock, harmonious vocals, and breezy way of being – but throws in some new, surprising twists.
On the follow-up to 2017’s ‘Something To Tell You’, they regularly push themselves out of their comfort zones, experimenting with glitchy electronics (‘I Know Alone’), slatherings of sax (‘Summer Girl’), and dubby syncopation (‘Another Try’, which feels like a sparkier sibling to Lana Del Rey’s cover of Sublime’s ‘Doin’ Time’). Between all of the new, though, the sisters are still experts at deploying irresistible rock, like the rousing, shout-a-long brilliance of ‘The Steps’.
Written largely as singer and guitarist Danielle came to terms with a bout of depression, the record references isolation and overwhelming anxieties. On ‘I Know Alone’, she sighs: “Days get slow like counting cell towers on the road/I know alone and I don’t wanna talk about it.” If you were told it was written about the experience of being stuck in lockdown, you wouldn’t question it.
‘Now I’m In It’ – driven by a jittery bassline and snapping drums – details being stuck in the blues but manages to make something you want to scream along to out of it. On the acoustic strum of ‘I’ve Been Down’, Danielle kicks things off in defiant mood, following her admission that she’s “taped up the windows of the house” with a declaration: “But I ain’t dead yet.” There’s a hint of a punk sneer to her voice, offset by the gentle guitar, twinkling piano lines and her sisters’ soft backing vocals. Even when they’re going through it and dealing with the rough stuff, Haim manage to offer some comfort.
That consolation is one of the themes of ‘WIMPIII’. On the poignant ‘Hallelujah’, they pay tribute to the strength they offer each other through their dark times – Alana grieving for her best friend, Este dealing with her Type 1 Diabetes. The ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ jam of ‘Summer Girl’ sees Danielle position herself as a beacon of light to her boyfriend and the band’s frequent producer Ariel Rechtshaid while he was being treated for testicular cancer (he is now in remission). “I see it in your face/I’m relief,” she whispers. “I’m your summer girl.”
There are moments of lightheartedness here too – sometimes wry, sometimes not. On bright, ska-tinged opener ‘Los Angeles’, Danielle sings about thinking about leaving her hometown for good. “New York is cold/I tried the winter there once,” she explains, before her verdict follows emphatically, accompanied by a harsh blast of sax: “Nope!” Then there’s ‘3AM’ a ‘90s R&B-indebted ode to “U up?” texts and drunken booty calls that’s bookended with fictional voicemail messages from Haim’s would-be suitors. What falls in between is sexy and sultry, but these parodies are hilariously accurate.
The record’s title is jokey too – a humorous jab at anyone still treating women in music like a novelty in 2020. It came to Danielle in a dream and is their way of shutting down yet more questions about what it’s like to be a rock star when you haven’t got a dick swinging between your legs. Consider ‘Man From The Magazine’ an education into that life. Over Joni Mitchell folk, Haim recount incidents from their career so far, like bassist Este being asked if she “makes the same faces in bed” as when she’s on stage or the treacheries of entering the hallowed “masculine” space of a music shop. “I drove too far for you to hand me that starter guitar,” Danielle sings. “‘Hey girl, why don’t you play a few bars.’” The eye-rolling is justifiably audible.
By breaking from what the world might expect from them and letting themselves do whatever the hell they want, they have produced a record that’s experimental, soothing and vulnerable; it’s a thing of great beauty.
Label: Polydor Records
Release date: June 26