Album review: Anna Calvi – Hunter

John Preston

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

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The third album cover by this decade’s gothic idol Anna Calvi combines three different shades of red with a close-up of Calvi’s cocked-back face drenched in sweat; there is little ambiguity between what is implied with these visuals and that which links it to the themes that are contained within Hunter.

Calvi is mostly interested in gender roles and sexuality, with at least half the songs here explicitly referencing associations with biological gender and presumed fixed identities and the reversal and muddying of; and on several tracks she self-identifies as a man.

2015’s One Breath was a dizzying, bewitching and beautiful record but Hunter takes Calvi into different spaces: her bellow is more possessed and appears to come from a far more personal place. Super-producer John Congleton has been replaced with Nick Launay, a producer associated mainly with Nick Cave and what could be more appropriate?

There is something nostalgic about Calvi’s musical aesthetic and it is impossible, if you are aware of the influences, to not hear Siouxise Sioux, Bauhaus and other big haired vampiric icons from the 80s. The sheer scale and vastness of Calvi’s musical soundscapes and her extraordinary, near operatic vocals are also in keeping with this era of maximalism and, unlike a contemporary such as Zola Jesus, Calvi’s sonic choices on Hunter are also of this time.

Guitars, drums and occasional string flourishes dominate this record and the more experimental angles of One Breath are dispensed with. This works well on tracks like the Bond-theme indebted ‘Swimming Pool’ and the thrillingly big-boned and sexy ‘Alpha’. ‘Indies or Paradise’ is also wonderfully haughty and assured but tracks like ‘Chain and Wish’ promise much but are unwritten and forgettable.

Two ballads bring Hunter to a close. The acoustic hush of ‘Away’ is restrained and pretty but it’s on album closer ‘Eden’ where Calvi reveals another side to her ambitions. This is the most pop-focused song of her career and she pulls it off effortlessly.

Hunter is in some ways only a partial success and fails to reach the more adventurous and musically competent One Breath. Thematically Calvi is not covering any new ground and high-glamour androgyny and gender blurring has been around for decades – look to Grace Jones and David Bowie amongst many others.

Hunter’s biggest weakness is an inconsistency in the strength of songwriting with too many songs that play closer to a mood but one which is not insidious or fully-developed enough to make a lasting impression. When Anna Calvi excels here though she is a masterful performer indeed but this is not the album which will take her closer to the status she demands.