It almost feels like 2008’s hit ‘My Delirium’ was a mistake. Driven by a simple yet catchy guitar lick, the song took off into Pop Rock heaven, yet the rest of Ladyhawke’s début album seemed to ignore the direction of that radio-friendly gem to make a case for synth-keyboards and beats instead. When New Zealanders got the opportunity to hear her new single (first!) a few weeks back from the follow-up album Wild Things, I was excited to hear what the Masterton-born Kiwi had in store for us on her second album – more rock or more …
Sorry … Did you say something?
...Her follow-up album.
What about it?
...Umm, Wild Things is her third album.
Are you serious?
I guess I should go and listen to the follow-up album then.
Boy, did Anxiety completely pass the world by (or at least my part of the world). And with good reason too. While the first couple of songs start out promisingly with strong pop beat sensibilities, the rest of the album seems to struggle to find itself and has a tendency to lean heavily on ripping melodic fragments off from The Cure (‘Sunday Drive’). When the song ‘Cellophane’ comes along one can’t help wondering why there isn’t more guitar present as the arrangement’s dynamics are what attempt to propel the song while the guitars get buried by uninteresting synth. One of the great virtues of using a guitar in pop music is that it really stands out, especially if you have a riff that can be hammered out to drive the song home – something that ‘Sunday Drive’ definitely needed more of and could have made that song the follow-up hit that Ladyhawke needed (so idiots like me would know that there was a second album out!). ‘Cellophane’ in the same respect – quite a fantastic song – lacks any real dynamics, any real variety …
Onto the review of the new album. The third album.
So what does this all mean for Ladyhawke’s 2016 release Wild Things?
The album takes the synth route again.
I wasn’t particularly impressed with first single ‘A Love Song’ when Ladyhawke aired the song to her New Zealand brethren first on national television, though on subsequent listening it certainly has much to like about it. It’s a simple song that does nothing special but will be likeable for anyone who likes this brand of under-the-radar pop. ‘The River’ attempts to compete with another local singer-songwriter, Brooke Fraser, for metaphors about water and rivers, though Fraser’s ‘Something in the Water’ has so much more natural instrumentation with pop hooks appearing in every part of the song – verses, chorus, and bridges. This is essentially what’s missing from the entire Wild Things album. It’s not like there aren’t pop hooks, but much of it is derivative, and those that stand out are only one part of the song while other parts fall flat.
All over, the album feels a little homogeneous. And not just in the vocals, but in the over-reliance on one production technique. For an artist who used to bang out her pre-Ladyhawke bands on the guitar, and had her biggest hit with a guitar driven song, the one instrument that could have made this album more dynamic and interesting to listen to is at times buried or completely missing.
‘A Love Song’ and ‘The River’ start the album off on a really strong catchy pop-note, where the title song slows the tempo down with heart-warming pines of love. ‘Let it Roll’ is the highlight that gets everything right, even if the guitar is still relegated to just bridge colouring. An infectious beat, a bass groove, all propelling the song towards the chorus. ‘Chills’ is almost a direct rip-off of The Knife’s ‘Heartbeats’ in the verses while ‘Sweet Fascination’ continues taking the same cues but lacks the propulsive groove and quirky but endearing vocal approach. ‘Golden Girl’ inserts some of that Brooke Fraser acoustic guitar (or is it ukulele? ...I think it’s ukulele) in the chorus lifting the song from being just a synth-fest and adding a touch of fun.
Lyrically the entire album is an ode to falling deeply in love. Luckily it isn’t soppy and boring, but is actually uplifting and joyous which translates to the music with fruitful results, but a lack of vocal and instrument variation can really cause the songs to drag at the halfway mark. Wild Things is a good pop album, though it doesn’t stand out, but at least it’s a huge step up from the second album and almost reaches the same simple but easy fun of the début.