If music at its most basic is about connection, Anna Calvi has a startling new take on the implications.
The Hunter is her third album, one released after a four year gap in which she temporarily relocated to France with a new lover and found the space and time provided by anonymity to re-assess everything from femininity, to identity constraints, to the elemental dynamics of rock and roll.
Starting from that atomised place has given her the courage to make a huge record, one bathed in red – a colour she recently described as capturing the collection’s essence, a breakout work damned by qualities described as ‘visceral, cerebral, animalistic’.
It’s also a tone familiar at a biological level as spelling danger, but the quietly spoken Londoner meets the threat without quarter being asked or given. Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy doesn’t just dabble in the politics of gender fluidity but openly celebrates them; a devoutly riff-orientated strut squared with her ruddy howl, it’s no meek submission but a confident, unambiguous invitation to understand.
The Hunter is built on these principles, full of slow-burning desires, a sex record for anyone who’s ever touched someone without setting boundaries. The panting wash of Indies Or Paradise and its hyper, screeching guitar solo takes physical power and self-control to an apex Calvi’s music has never previously reached. On the finger-popping Alpha she claims possession of a largely masculine adjective and turns the hubris against itself, whilst on the widescreen panorama of Swimming Pool the poetry of falling in love is framed in the tones of a grand, romantic trial of growing intimacy, a throwback song that underlines her voice as a startling instrument itself.
If that’s a more familiar take on how shared experiences make bonds, the overt sense is of a woman unprepared to accept anything as normal other than what the self believes; on the title track she croons, ‘I dress myself in leather/With flowers in my hair’, emphasising the dichotomy between societal norms, a work of eroticism on which taking what you want is nine tenths of no law.
There is an obvious pitfall in making such an overtly gauntlet-throwing record, that of it being propagandised purely for what it says than how it sounds. But this is no cheap shot at grabbing a malformed jolt of attention. There’s a tenderness and resignation to the ballad Away that portrays Calvi as a victim as well aggressor, but the final word goes to opener As A Man, where the question is not about her but about what the subject wants, a reminder that sexuality is never owned set to a massive set of pop-props that could launch the provocative what ifs into the mainstream.
Strip back rock and roll and you’ll find lust and sex – its name comes from it, after all. The Hunter is about all the other stuff we complicate it with and Anna Calvi has used it to come out from everything, including her own body.
That beneath this revelation it still makes a noise worth hearing is a remarkable feat.