A positive album of power pop that occasionally verges on bubblegum.
Ladyhawke, aka Pip Brown, released her eponymous debut album in 2008, near the beginning of the recent ’80s synthpop revival. Her follow-up, Anxiety, shed most of those synths, opting for more new wave and indie rock vibes. The relentless synths of her latest album, Wild Things, are thus a return to the stylings that initially brought Ladyhawke so much success. But it’s also her poppiest work to date. Sounding not unlike the music of Carly Rae Jepson and similar pop radio stalwarts, Wild Things has the potential to bring her songwriting into the mainstream.
A thoroughly positive album of power pop that occasionally verges on bubblegum, Wild Things is a far cry from the darker material Ladyhawke recorded (and scrapped) post-Anxiety. There is a good chance fans will hear this twinkly album and write it off as mechanical pop that apes recent chart-topping hits. The hand-clappy “Golden Girl,” “Hillside Avenue” – both with their huge hooks and catchy, but empty choruses – and the “na na na”s on “The River” are likely the biggest offenders. But anyone completely writing off Wild Things is, more than anything, struggling to reconcile the uncontainable happiness on display. Quite a surprise from this former alcoholic whose most commercially successful song to date is “My Delirium” and who wrote an entire album about social anxiety.
As a whole, the album oozes pulsating synths and bombastic beats from Brown and producer Tommy English. Because of this, it is very top-heavy. On the first half alone, Ladyhawke stacks “A Love Song,” “The River,” “Let It Roll” and “Chills,” the first two playing as unapologetically euphoric tracks that bank on their propulsive beats and ecstatic choruses. But lyrically, this is Ladyhawke’s weakest effort. From “Chills” and its repeated refrain of “This is love/ This is love/ This is everything” to “You’ve opened my eyes to the oldest tale of time/ This is what a love song sounds like” on album opener “A Love Song,” there’s very little depth to the love songs and nothing to make them stand out.
But Wild Things is by no means one sugary synth radio-ready track after another. Rapid-fire sequencer action on tracks like “Dangerous,” “Wild Things,” “Let It Roll” and “Chills” add sonic depth to the album. “Let It Roll” is fantastically layered pop with its verses stripped down to just vocal and beat before adding a shimmering synth line over the chorus. “Chills” may prominently feature hand-clapping and less than stellar lyrics, but it also combines big piano chords with tinky woodblock percussion and wailing guitar. “Wild Things” is an interesting blend of broodier moods, deep ’80s synths that would have fit perfectly on the first album and a nostalgia-tinged, bittersweet chorus featuring some of Ladyhawke’s sweetest vocals. “Dangerous” seems most out of place on the album, given the bubbly pop vein of most tracks. Standing in sharp contrast, it continues the theme of love yet focuses on the negative. It’s an interesting choice to close out an album that, up to that point, was more than satisfied cooing along about the joys of love.
The best moments on Wild Things overcome the temptation to give in to the vague euphoria of radio pop and mine ’80s synthpop not just for its driving beats, but for its nuanced emotion. Standout track “Sweet Fascination” accents its thudding beat with a pixelated synth line over lyrics that are strikingly honest about the uneasiness of love. Whether it’s “Obsession makes you feel weak/ It makes you turn a blind eye” or “You’re like the hammer to me/ You drive it down on my head/ It doesn’t feel right/ I don’t like all the fanfare,” this disquietude rings truer than breezy bubblegum pop and showcases exactly what Ladyhawke is capable of at her best.