Allie X has always been an odd proposition, a pop star whose aesthetic, which has always been a crucial element to her work, doesn’t always fit and can sometimes dwarf her music.
An extension of Lady Gaga during her imperial phase, Alexandra Hughes’ look is a mix of high-concept, advant-garde noir glam and RuPaul’s Drag Race. Nothing new but there is a sense of sincere devotion to at least the gay sensibility behind her image choices that won’t be dropped like a hot sequinned potato when the chips (ahem) are down.
The music however has always been relatively low states, commercial electro pop that doesn’t quite live up to the anticipated promise of what Allie X is, or could deliver. Her last EP, Super Sunset, contained some of her best songs to date and her always powerful and slick vocals struck a powerful wallop. Cape God, Hughes’ second album proper, seems to be a more forceful grab for mainstream attention.
Where Super Sunset was a fluorescent trawl through imagined if familiar characters, Cape God is a more personal sounding record and Hughes sounds as though many of these words are lifted from her own experiences and not that of am adopted persona.
The first part of the album plays with a different sound not heard before on an Allie X record with the title track, ‘Fresh Laundry’ and in particular ‘Regulars’, an early highlight, bringing a more introverted and indie rock feel. A grungy and macabre duet with Troye Sivan seems like a wasted opportunity on ‘Love Me Wrong’, however, and it’s only on the outro that the song finally solidifies into something more satisfying. This sonic mood is returned to but not exclusively relied on throughout the record and often grounds it in a way that is makes it seem more serious than her previous work.
The remainder of the record is eclectic and accomplished. ‘Susie Save Your Love’ continues the indie pop theme with Hughes swapping vocals with Mitski, an impressive and surprising guest indeed.
‘June Bloom’ is an effective, mid-temp ‘Bennie and the Jets’-era Elton John homage. ‘Super Duper Party People’ returns to an electro disco mood which has informed the singer’s previous work. An acquired taste, its staccato but airy soundstage includes a deep bass and a sickly sweet, nursery rhyme chorus which is off-set by the dead panned verses.
Its sister track is the brilliant ‘Life of the Party’ which is a far more effective critique on club and party culture both lyrically and musically. The chorus pounds with a violent intensity whilst a hedonistic night out is recalled with excitement and concern, ‘I was the life of the party, they wrote that out with a sharpie, they stripped me down like a Barbie.’
‘Madame X’ – not a Madonna tribute, though the song could have easily fit on the singer’s album of the same name – is an overblown, cinematic ballad in the vein of a Bond tune. The Madame of the title is a metaphor for addiction and its corresponding poison; in this instance it’s heroin. A swirling, amorphous love letter to the substance that provides a substitute for connection and love, on this track Hughes sounds convincing and heartbroken.
The album ends with ‘Learning in Public’, which disconcerts with its intricate likeness to Taylor Swift in her current incarnation. It does so efficiently with a well-written song and one that you imagine Swift herself would gladly have swooped upon and made her own.
This highlights one of the problems of the record. It can be hard to stand back and hear a solid identity that ties itself solely to Allie X. For the artist to push through the noise of how music is made and consumed now, this could be its ultimate weakness.
Cape God is a good, surprisingly coherent album, and one that gets better the more it’s revisited, but it’s time now for Allie X to match the undisputed quality and creativity of her visual with the corresponding audio.