Review Summary: It’s like taking a time-machine back to the ‘80s & bringing all the cool things forward a quarter of a century!
While rockers may argue the case for hair-metal, the decade of the 1980s will best be remembered for the explosion of pop music. While artists such as Madonna, Cyndi Lauper & The Pet Shop Boys were able to maintain successful careers, many a performer seemed to come and go with worldwide hit singles being followed by pretty much nothing else. To put it in the words of 27 year old New Zealander Phillipa Brown (aka Ladyhawke) on the song ‘Professional Suicide’: “I see you had a hit in ’89, too bad we don’t all age as good as wine”.
Knowing the above, you would think that any musician looking to reinvigorate ‘80s pop and make it sound fresh two decades later would either be foolish or arrogant. However, Brown is neither of these. Despite her shyness and illnesses (she is lactose intolerant, has numerous allergies and has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome a’la Craig Nicholls of The Vines, ), she not only sings on her self-titled debut album, but also plays pretty much every kind of instrument that makes an appearance. It seems that Brown’s mission to make the impossible possible simply stems from natural talent.
Ladyhawke wastes absolutely no time reeling in listeners either, with opener ‘Magic’ beginning with an instantly likeable synth arrangement, before Brown’s laconic indie-inspired vocals enter the piece. It is a voice which may not be the most immediate – especially in the mainstream pop world – but it contains an alluring quality that impresses to no end. Whether the voice would work on its own is almost irrelevant as this opener sets the stage for most of the album by including a deceptively catchy chorus, contagious hand-claps and an impressive synth-heavy breakdown.
Those listeners worried that the album may get a little too electro and dancey need not be concerned however as early album highlight ‘My Delirium’ near perfectly combines pop tendencies with a subtle rockier side via use of guitars, bass and drums. This 4th single includes another under-stated and relatively simplistic chorus which could well be one of the most infectious of 2008!
Elsewhere on the beginning half of ‘Ladyhawke’, no song particularly stands out, yet nothing is all that bad either. It is then a thoroughly pleasant surprise to learn that this album is actually back-loaded, with hardly a missed step occurring from track 7 onwards. Lead (digital) single ‘Back Of The Van’ begins the batch of songs not to dissimilarly to the album’s opener. Greeting the listener with keys that remind of Van Halen and scratchier vocals that remind of Stevie Nicks, it is very reminiscent of the 1980’s and its repetitive “You set me on… You set me on fire” chorus will aggravatingly get stuck in your head.
‘Back Of The Van’ is the perfect lead-in to album highlight ‘Paris Is Burning’, which is a retro cut that is all kinds of cool. This 2nd single contains a richly textured musical backdrop which provides the perfect accompaniment to suit Brown’s vocal style. It also helps that the song practically has 2 separate choruses with one being used as both a bridge and outro. Soon after, Ladyhawke further proves that she can implant almost anything in your mind on the sublimely repetitive 3rd single ‘Dusk Till Dawn’. As silly as it sounds, you will be saying “Bang Bang Bang on the wall, from dusk till dawn” soon enough.
Other solid tracks to grace the latter portion of this impressive debut are the sardonic lyrics of ‘Professional Suicide’ and the near-perfect conventionally structured pop of ‘Crazy World’. Even ‘Oh My’, which is included as a bonus track on most LP versions, is likely to win you over with its television theme-like groove and infectious chorus. If there is a weakness to be found on ‘Ladyhawke’, it is that Brown has not quite perfected the art of the ballad. Both ‘Love Don’t Live Here’ and closer ‘Morning Dreams’ are not awful, but lack the emotion to have them be anything too special.
Arguably the most prominent skill shown on this album is making it sound fresh and modern, despite the comparisons to any number of acts from the 1980s. From Kim Wilde to The Pretenders, from Madonna to The Bangles, the inspirations are clearly evident, yet there is little that comes off as stale or derivative. While much credit should obviously go to the artist herself, it would be remiss not to also complement the bevy of producers used on the release, the most prominent of which is Pascal Gabriel, who has previously worked with the likes of Kylie Minogue, Dido, Sophie Ellis Baxtor and Bomb The Bass.
In a year which saw the release of well-received pop albums (Britney Spears, Lady Gaga & Katy Perry) as well as critically acclaimed female-fronted non-mainstream efforts (Santigold & Portishead), it is a little bewildering that an album which finds a successful middle ground between the two has been overlooked. To think that such an album has come from a relatively young lady making what is essentially her debut recording is astounding. This album comes highly recommended to anyone that likes classic pop music with a twist.
Recommended Tracks: Paris Is Burning, My Delirium, Magic & Dusk Till Dawn.