[31 August 2009]
The New Zealand pop singer Phillipa Brown, better known as “Ladyhawke,” released her eponymous debut late last year, and it was truly a slow-burner. While the infectious “Paris Is Burning” was the album’s biggest success, Ladyhawke had enough charisma to put its singles on fashionable playlists a year later. This special edition of the multi-instrumentalist’s debut features five bonus tracks, including acoustic versions of “Paris Is Burning” and “Dusk Till Dawn”. The question is, does Ladyhawke hold up now that the Nu-new wave revival is almost at its end?
Well, yes and no. Fundamentally, Ladyhawke is not a great album. Like any piece of genre-rock, it’s inherently dated. This is not an album that will age well. But, hey, it’s the tail end of summer, a time of beach barbeques and final blowouts, and Ladyhawke makes for an adequate soundtrack. Besides, most of the listeners will be too drunk, and the parties will be too loud, for them to take much notice.
It’s perfect for a summer that celebrates the ‘80s—a decade that will seemingly never go away. The endless revivals in both music and fashion pop up every four years or so, making us wonder—will this generation ever move past a phase that should have ended 20 years ago? Willfully nostalgic for the time of neon colors, leggings, and reactionary politics—Ladyhawke has one foot in the ‘80s and the other on the dancefloor. And what she does, she does well. The hypnotic beat of “Better Than Sunday”, the relentless hook propelling “My Delirium” make for instant classics of the genre. But it’s a genre that’s starting to feel tired, stale, unnecessary—even its standout tracks are starting to grate.
Maybe that’s why the first time we heard “Paris Is Burning”, a Gary Numan “Cars” retread, it sounded irresistible. But now, on this new edition, it just sounds overdone. “Dusk Till Dawn”, like the hybrid between Franz Ferdinand and Madonna, still sounds brilliant, but in this case it’s the exception rather than the rule. Fortunately, for those who prefer consistency, “Back of the Van” has always been dreadful. A weak, ‘80s retread, “Back of the Van” represents Ladyhawke at her worst, in the same way that “Manipulating Woman” shows her at her best.
Because simply taking New Wave aesthetics and giving them a glossy, Cut Copy sheen, is less than unimaginative—it’s just plain boring. So when she does push herself, namely on “Dusk Till Dawn”, or the underrated “Professional Suicide”, Brown is an engaging, charismatic artist. But those moments are few and far in between.
As an expanded edition, Ladyhawke doesn’t offer too many frills. Bonus tracks “Oh My” and “Danny and Jenny” are better-than-average, while the acoustic versions of three of the album’s tracks are completely unnecessary. This is an album that is willfully, occasionally wonderfully, over-the-top. But it’s all style, and no substance, and so without the style, well, there’s really nothing there. Maybe we expected more from Ladyhawke. We probably shouldn’t have.