Rock and roll, at its best and most primitive, is designed to grab you by the crotch before seeping into your brain. On Hunter, Anna Calvi displays an understanding of that truism in a way that few contemporary performers and pretenders can even begin to claim. Many contemporary male artists, frankly, have forgotten this, lazily repeating old tropes about as fulfilling as sophomoric dry-humping. Calvi’s liberatory explorations of desire and sensuality throughout the album’s ten songs transcend gendered norms, striving for boundless humanity.
Hunter is a To Bring You My Love or a Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Calvi joins precursors like PJ Harvey and Lucinda Williams as female artists who make male musical tropes their own while casting aspersions on why those tropes were ever gendered, to begin with. Calvi, already a multiple-nominee for the Mercury Prize, pushes both her voice and guitar playing to her furthest extremes yet, wrestling emotion from every nuance and note. Already something of a stylistic chameleon on her first two records, working with producer Nick Launay enables Calvi to coolly embrace both the guttural and atmospheric best elements of raw rock and roll.
“As a Man” opens with a Bowie-esque androgyny that quickly turns aggressive. That sexual hunger is amplified in “Hunter” which Calvi herself describes as being inspired by “the defiance in experiencing pleasure shamelessly; I just find that really powerful.” Dressed in leather and cooing for “one more taste, one more time”, Calvi uses the refrain of “nothing lasts” not as a melancholy acknowledgment of fleeting emotions but rather as a justification for embracing the pleasures of the moment. “Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy” continues the raw, nervy, and unapologetic sensuality of the album’s first half. Hunter is the most aggressive reclamation of rock and roll from masculine dominance since PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love.
The album’s second half is dreamier but no less impactful. The shimmering “Swimming Pool” injects the innocuous backyard installation with hyper-sexualized significance as Calvi seems to welcome potential lovers in multiple guises: “If you could be the one / I can be the one.” She amplifies that hunger in “Alpha” singing, “I want to know because I’m an alpha / I divide and conquer.” Of that song, Calvi says, “I question why strength is seen as a masculine trait. I like the idea of the alpha human, who is at once filled with bravado and insecurity. I wanted this record to feel primal and rousing.” Mission accomplished.
To be clear, on Hunter Anna Calvi is not simply meeting male musicians on their common ground and outperforming them; rather, she’s defining a new geography and daring everyone to follow. It’s the lioness, after all, who is the true hunter.