If I were the betting type, I’d have wagered my first-born and several of my vital organs on Ladyhawke’s second coming Anxiety being a Pop Supernova. Not just the finest Planet Pop could furnish as Earth dies screaming in this year of the 20 ‘n’ the 12; but an album that would help fire the lighthouse that would guide our zombie-fried souls back to spiritual Nirvana. Yes, one had high hopes. Perhaps unrealistically so. But spin your head round like an owl’s all the way back to 2008 and Ms Hawke’s poptasmic début, the cryptically-titled Ladyhawke. From outta nowhere, it was a Pop Masterclass delivering banger upon banger of radioactive pop firecrackers (“My Delirium”, “Dusk ‘till Dawn”, “Paris is Burning”, “Back of the Van”). A treasure that burned so bright you had to wear a special boiler suit and shades just to handle it. OK, only one of its offspring was technically “a hit”, but for one ker-azy summer, it was the most fun you could have with your pants on. So how will humanity cope with the grim realisation that Anxiety is…well…slightly rubbish??
Anxiety’s first signs underwhelm but don’t herald the apocalyptic calamity ahead. “Girl Like Me” is a Garbage-esque riposte to Edwyn Collins’ “A Girl Like You”. Hip-shaking swagger bouncing off what will soon become the yawningly-ubiquitous “soup de jour” fuzz-guitar riff. One Roger Moore eyebrow flips skyward at the absence of the anticipated stellar chorus, but hey, it’s early days—keep the faith. A cool bead of sweat nervously falls during “Sunday Drive”, though. The Cockernee “‘Ello treacle, apples ‘n’ pears” Joanna roll is half-inched from Madness’ bouncy “Embarrassment”, whilst the stomping, snotty verses pick the pocket of youthful Supergrass. Yet two dozily unconvincing choruses of “Please don’t go / I need your love” later and it’s time to unmask the whole charade Scooby Doo-style as a weak, dilute-to-taste “My Delirium”. Rum doings are afoot! Rejoice then with recent single “Black, White & Blue”, an unlikely saviour perhaps, but here it appears as mouth-wateringly dribblesome as a champagne oasis with comfy deckchairs in the Sahara. A cocktail shaker mix of Abba’s “Lovelight” and Sparks’ “This Town Ain’t Big Enough”, it swoops, shimmers, and soars like a phoenix, or maybe a hawk, and contains much refreshing taste of that sweet rush that made the debut so exhilarating. Cue dancing in the street and hey, maybe everything’s gon’ be alright…
Not quite. After a bumpy but not pant-filling take-off, Anxiety soon spirals into freefall. Say your Hail Marys and kiss your ass goodbye: This puppy’s going down. One crushing blow of disappointment to the knackers after another. First-up is “Vaccine”, a sub-Sleeper/Echobelly Britpop clanger with embarrassingly toe-curling lyrics (“You’ll be my vaccine, yeah / And I’ll be your inbetweener”). BOKKO! “Blue Eyes” follows with a nonchalant “Na na na” chorus, choppy Elastica guitars, rattling drums. The sound of the streets. In 1995. Someone shakes the “Lyrical Cliché Magic 8-Ball” for inspiration and ta-da “You’re an accident that’s waiting to happen”. BIFF! “The Quick & The Dead” decides resurrecting dodgy Sharon Stone westerns isn’t hexing enough so saddles up Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” and lasso’s a passing hair-metal, armadillos-down-our-trousers axe solo to boot. “It’s the nightmare before you can wake”, cries Lady H, and somewhere the definition of irony resigns in a huff. KAPOW! The title track must be top drawer, though, right? It’s the law! No dice. “Anxiety” itself is possessed by the nefarious demonica of Menswear’s “Daydreamer”. I’ll say no more. ZAMMO! By this stage, all goodwill has left the building. Not only left the building but changed its name to Dave and skipped town. At night.
Anxiety‘s nadir, though, is “Vanity”. On paper, the idea of Ladyhawke flippin’ the bird to the Plastics ‘n’ Pretty Vacants seems righteous, but no. It’s too whiny, hyperbrat kicking off its nappy in a huff and contains the most annoying playground chorus this side of Glee. “Van-i-tay-yay-yay-yah”. It’s at this point I suspect Nietzsche was possibly right and yes, God is dead…
BUT THEN! At the darkest hour of the darkest day, something happens. Something called “Cellophane”. From opening note, it’s the signal to wipe away tears with relief and disbelief. No native to its bedfellows, this speaks a different language. No fuzz-bass? Slow verses? An atomic chorus that lifted thy wounded heart to the ‘eavens? “Ladyhawke…you’re… you’re ALIVE!” It’s the album’s one true transcendental moment, and what a moment. Lushly, richly romantic, it blooms majestically into a graceful Abbey Road-style crescendo. “Cellophane” delivers the kiss of life to Anxiety‘s monotone flatliner, honoring it a genuine, soulful heartbeat and timely reminder why we care so much about this thing called “POP”. “All those years we spent running away / We never knew / It was meant to be”, exhales Hawke the Slayer triumphantly. In four minutes, La Femme du Hawke’s history and future are rewritten and—yes folks, there will be a tomorrow!
So beloved reader, if I were the betting type, I’d now be eating half-eaten kebabs out of trashcans whilst clad in rags, kidneyless, smelling of wee and sleeping under old newspapers. Let the sadly disappointing Anxiety serve lesson to us all. Firstly, most ‘90s Britpop was hollow guff not to be tampered with. And secondly, slapping fuzz guitar on everything doesn’t make it any smarter, sophisticated, or “authentic”. If this is Ladyhawke trying to find herself, she’s tragically lost sight of what made her amazing in the first place. Joy. Sparkle. Euphoria. Dynamic production. Dynamite choruses. Thou hast deserted thee! Children of Pop, strip Anxiety of the pretty, good “Black, White & Blue” and the pretty, divine “Cellophane” and leave the rest for the vultures. Yet having said that—and purely for research—what are the odds on an all-conquering Ladyhawke comeback circa 2016? Mmm, well maybe a little flutter then.