With some soft rock chords and a Carol King pace, Annie Hayden’s The Enemy of Love leads a plain musical existence. It’s neither overblown nor unassuming, resting easily at that tepid midpoint where overtired folk-rock plays in its pajamas. As a result, Hayden’s second solo album in four years is an often anonymous affair, never quite finding a groove that becomes its modest inspirations.
Hayden’s songs are decent enough; the way she performs them really defines who she is as an artist. Her delivery — as a singer, musician, and arranger — has a sloppy charm and a lazy gait, and her girlish voice suggests Liz Phair or Lisa Loeb sifting through tattered echoes of Fleetwood Mac. The short interludes “Anytime” and “Boos”, with their heavily strummed electric guitars, shakers, and snuggly harmonies, even sound like filler cut from Exile in Guyville‘s sequence. When she rocks out, as in the swaying “Money Trouble”, Hayden goes somewhat reluctantly, as if there’s somewhere else she’d ultimately rather be.
The Enemy of Love could have been an entirely different album (and, in turn, reached the heights of the touchstones it indirectly references) had it not been assembled in such a humdrum manner. There’s no shift in tone or shade from song to song, and the unexciting arrangements frequently dress down the melodies. In “Hip Hurray”, the instruments fumble around the mystified melody without ever exactly adhering to it. “Cara Mia” provides one of the more exaggerated examples of the album’s prosaic production (by Glen Tarachow) and awkward mix: the instruments never quite coalesce, especially a stray electric guitar, which protrudes from the mix like a gawky limb. Hayden possesses some Jeff Tweedy-ish lyrical streaks and cadences — “Wispy leaves / Whisper things” and “This flavor never pleases / Thunder teases and passes by” being two of the more visceral examples — but she can be maddeningly aloof as well. The sound of The Enemy of Love never attempts to make sense of Hayden’s impressions and abstractions, nor does it contribute to them — it’s stark white like hospital walls. The dispassionate surroundings only further bewilder some of Hayden’s more confusing lyrical moments.
Proving herself to be a kindred spirit to a rock legacy of regulars, Hayden nails a cover of the Replacements’ “Swingin Party”. She taps into the loose-leafed, lackadaisical loneliness that Paul Westerberg built his image upon, sounding at once hesitant and candid. But it also happens to be The Enemy of Love‘s best moment — the cover tune withholding more significance than the dozen originals. She makes a determined effort to render the same kind of impact as that of the songs she admires: “Starring in the Movies” hints at some lingering restlessness that has yet to be extracted from within. “I’ve got the music in me / It’s not enough / I should be starring in the movies,” Hayden sings as the song both concludes and hits its stride, stretching out on the short-lasting refrain, as if there’s promise in idealism alone.