Ladyhawke's self-titled debut album was a slick update of '80s pop and rock, done with plenty of brains and infused with the heart and soul of Pip Brown (aka Ladyhawke). On the long-awaited follow-up, Anxiety, she again works with producer Pascal Gabriel and the two concoct a sound that is less dreamy and far less '80s-influenced. This time the songs have a much more '90s-inspired approach. All ten of the songs have a tight, focused feel that is punchy and direct, making everything pounce out the speakers and right into the listener's brain. The tracks have the sultry burn of prime Garbage ("The Quick & the Dead"), they have dramatic twists and turns like Pulp ("Sunday Drive"), they kick like Elastica or Sleeper ("Vaccine," "Gone Gone Gone"), and they generally sound amazing. There's even a track that sounds like some kind of insane hybrid of the Breeders and Katy Perry ("Vanity") that shows just how much pop and power there is on Anxiety. From the powerhouse thump of the rhythm section and the tightly controlled growl of the guitars to the well-placed and never standard synths, the sound of the album is impressive. Brown and Gabriel build such a strong musical framework that it could swamp a less powerful singer, but Brown's dusky vocals are a perfect match. She sings of her troubled life in a voice that is easy to relate to, transmitting pain and confusion without overselling it. In fact, unless you really listen to the words (or look at the song titles), you may just hear the album as a good-time rocker and miss all the suffering under the la-la choruses and massive hooks. And the hooks are really large. While there may be no "Paris is Burning"-sized hit this time out, the high level of intensity in the music, words, and Brown's singing -- plus the cumulative thrill that builds up as song after song punches you right in the face -- more than makes up for it. It's a great pop record with plenty of guts and a sense of reality that is so often missing from records that sound this fun.
by Tim Sendra