"Listen guys I've had a great idea. We'll get a black model, put her in a man's suit, get her to drone over some obscure Brit new wave stuff, and put a dub reggae beat on it. No trust me, it'll be great. Now who's paying for lunch?"
All of which is a roundabout way of saying - some things just can't be invented. And I strongly suspect Anna Calvi is one of them. This is a formidable, epic work, dramatic and passionate, and like many others I have been struggling for comparisons, for any frame of reference that might raise a glimmer of interest from my mates.(Although to be fair any attempt at an objective, unbiased review of this album has been blown completely out of the water now after seeing her live earlier this week - a demure Eva Peron-styled axe hero who can apparently channel Jimi Hendrix at will, with a voice that filled Manchester Cathedral almost to shaking point.)
I went for this album after an itunes review that described it as "Goldfrapp meets The Banshees on the set of a spaghetti western" - if THAT ever happened I'd certainly buy it! For sure the breathy croon of "no more words" could bring one or two of Alison Goldfrapp's vocal deliveries to mind, but this is altogether darker territory than their sparkly electronica. There are tales of devils, desire and obsession here, and any song that starts with "My heart beats against the wardrobe.." is just asking to be made into a David Lynch film. The music is often tense and dissonant, occasionally unhinged, and sometimes barely even there, but the atmosphere that pervades these ten tracks never lets up for a moment. And everywhere, THAT voice.
Actually I say everywhere - for a woman with a staggeringly original debut album to be getting on with, Anna is certainly in no hurry. The first track is instrumental, the second barely registers as a murmur, and while the third (the stunning "Desire") quickens the tempo considerably, even then it's a good while until the crescendo takes you up a level, as she opens up the airways and gives you that first taste of what's to come. But it's a truly sublime moment, and well worth your patience -it's still giving me goosebumps now, after a fortnight's heavy rotation. Likewise the finale "Love Won't Be Leaving", which seems to build out of nowhere to ever-increasing levels of drama, only to fade away again in a few heartbeats.
For all the "tales of the darkside" - and I can see why Nick Cave is currently singing her praises - there is also a pop sensibility at work here. Infectious hooks and choruses swoop in and out of songs like "Blackout", and the aforementioned "Desire", while the glorious "Suzanne and I" is a swaggering celebration of love with the most delicious banshee-esque guitar lick at the start, that somehow also reminds me of Blondie's "Union City Blue" - if not in sound then certainly in size!
An immensely satisfying album, AND one of the most spellbinding gigs I've ever been to - an easy 5!!