Marika Hackman’s third album is full on and fearlessly, fitfully perverse. It’s many other things as well and that’s partly why Any Human Friend is such a full-bodied and rewarding listen. There’s quite a lot here to unload and take in, and Hackman’s expertly realised sonic and melodic choices make this an elegant but spiky hit of energy with an underlining, nagging melancholia.
A song like ‘Blow’ demonstrates how much Hackman has embraced a certain kind of indie-pop. It incorporates guitars, a throbbing bass-synth and a chorus that ratchets up these parts and continues to add elements without tipping the whole thing off a cliff edge of over-ambition. It is tight, instant and smartly sardonic, and a throwback to Brit-pop bands like Elastica and Sleeper. It’s also the most radio friendly track the British singer-songwriter has released.
This bolder and more pop-focused approach continues with tracks like cantering and hysterical ‘The One’ with its riotous call and response element (‘Love me, I need to be adored / You’re such an attention whore!’), the video of which sees Hackman confidently embodying pop-star cool in a skinny suit and a smoky eye trapped inside a photocopier.
‘All Night’ is a louche, mid-tempo track with angelic guitar strumming. The airy lightness betrays some of the most sexually explicit lyrics here as Hackman sings about eating her lover as ‘we go down on each other’.
The brilliant two-part centrepiece has the sad and brittle ‘Send My Love’ slow down to an alienating auto-tune which then segues into ‘Hand Solo’ with the line ‘creased sheets, leave my right hand free, hard to be alone’ repeated in both tracks. Hackman uses vivid phrases such as dark meat and skin pleat to extinguish any unlikely ambiguity and in contrast to ‘Send My Love’, makes it known that she loves this act of self love.
It’s tempting to think the experiences Hackman sings of here are as a result of and reference to her relationship breakdown to Amber Bain of The Japanese House a year or so back. Bain’s debut album Good at Falling, released earlier this year, was a bleak electronic record that chronicled a return to stability following a tough break-up but the subsequent works are too complex and opaque on both artists parts to join all, if any, of the necessary dots.
The beautifully arranged ‘Hold On’ that comes toward the end of Any Human Friend is about self-care, for example, and is not a comment on relationship survival – it’s not that kind of record.
It’s clear that Marika Hackman has made a decision to return to music with a thud and her previous attempts to try and somewhat hide behind her music have now been abandoned, and with great success on what is her best album to date. Any Human Friend is a statement of Martika Hackman’s sexuality, and her delight in being sexual. It succeeds in being both uncompromising and accessible, using humour and an unflinching honesty in equal, and often perfect, measure.