Review Summary: There really is nothing to get anxious over, Pip.
“I take a pill to help me through the day, I stay inside until I feel ok.
I’ve always been so cautious, but I’m sick of feeling nauseous.
It’s not that I am losing this war of my own choosing.
Take me on a ride, show me how to hide the voice in my head.”
In an industry seemingly full of extroverts, one wonders how New Zealand born multi-instrumentalist Phillipa “Pip” Brown – under the moniker of Ladyhawke – even released an album... Let alone one which was both critically and commercially successful. Suffering through multiple illnesses (Asperger’s Syndrome, lactose intolerance and multiple allergies) as well as low self-esteem, Brown fought through anxiety at practically every stage of making her self-titled debut LP... An ailment which heightened on stage as she toured worldwide. The resulting exhaustion dictated that it would be almost four years until a successor was released, but even if the laconic – arguably disengaging - indie-inspired vocals give away that this is the same awkward, effortlessly cool artist; the above lyrical confession from Anxiety’s title track suggests that this is a different Ladyhawke second time around.
“I’m on a high and I don’t even know why” is a telling opening lyric – if a slightly misleading one – as Brown predominantly eschews the sparse 80s leaning synth-pop of her debut for what can broadly be classified as new-wave tinged indie pop-rock. Bass is consistently prominent, live drums dominate over programmed beats, while casual listeners may well completely miss the level to which grungy guitars have been used, albeit through distorted effects. Occasionally such effects do smother melodies by detracting from the bouncy synth, but - as second single 'Sunday Drive' especially proves - Ladyhawke and practically her sole collaborator Pascal Gabriel (Kylie Minogue, Goldfrapp, Marina & The Diamonds) have far from lost their knack for an infectious hook. Gabriel’s production here is crisp, detailed and well-crafted, lending itself to repeat listens, if not matching the chart-baiting immediacy of previous hits ‘Paris Is Burning’, ‘My Delirium’, ‘Magic’ & ‘Dusk Till Dawn’.
As an unfortunate side-effect of this two-pronged creative process, one’s opinion of this brisk 36 minute album may well come down to the age-old debate of “consistency vs lack of variety”, with ‘Anxiety’ definitely falling into both categorizations. As such, choosing highlights almost feels insignificant, with not only a slim gap between the best and worst track here, but also a dependence on the personal need for diversity – a requirement most likely to be satisfied by the Bowie-influenced 70s glam stomp of ‘The Quick & The Dead’ and the darker, more methodically paced ‘Cellophane’. "What will people think of me?” Brown ponders on ‘Vaccine’... Well, while it fails to better its predecessor, ‘Anxiety’ is a mature, personal and vulnerable release that is both a brave and natural evolution for an undoubtedly talented artist. Bottom line: There really is nothing to get anxious over, Pip.
Recommended Tracks: Sunday Drive, Anxiety, Vaccine and Black White & Blue.