As album opener ‘Wanderlust’ creeps into your earholes, you’d be forgiven for wondering if Marika had returned to the roots of her debut full length album We Slept At Last. It’s a brooding beginning. The sound is much more reminiscent of the folky first album than it is of her follow up, the raucous and energetic ‘I’m Not Your Man’. But with a transition that sounds more like a roar than any musical instrument I know of, Marika then goes full throttle into ‘The One’ and smashes any sense of a folky return out of the water. ‘The One’ is a powerful piece of indie pop that pokes a bit of fun at the more confident persona that Marika has been presenting ever since ‘I’m Not Your Man’ released her from the shackles of expectation. With some lovely one-liners about being ‘such an attention whore’ and ‘all you fuckers want(ing) my dick’, it promises a continuation of what has so far been an exciting evolution throughout her career.
And any doubts that she would continue this confident, open, and honest stage of her career are completely pushed aside when she follows ‘The One’ with ‘All Night.’ While ‘I’m Not Your Man’ was often about sexuality, ‘All Night’ indicates that Any Human Friend is going to take the next step and spend much of its 38 minutes talking extremely openly about sex. With lyrics about how ‘our mouths are just for moaning’, it sets out a stall that its writer rarely shies away from. ‘Blow’, ‘Conventional Ride’, and the stunning ‘Hand Solo’ all put sex and masturbation squarely at their centre. But this isn’t just sex for sex’s sake, or an attempt to use sex to sell more copies of the album. This is a careful consideration of the role of sex in all elements of our lives, and the importance it plays even in the lives of those who otherwise find human interaction less than appealing.
Marika offers herself up as one of those people in the album’s absolute standout, ‘I’m Not Where You Are’. Opening with the line ‘I’d rather be alone/than interact with me’, she then admits that ‘lately I’ve been trying to find the point of human contact.’ While this song may be full of Marika’s trademark witty lyrics and clever jokes, it also hints at a struggle in forming and keeping relationships and remaining interested for long. It outlines a loneliness that she isn’t a hundred percent sure she wishes to find a way out of.
These themes of sex and difficult relationships return again and again on ‘Any Human Friend’, and are particularly prevalent during the one-two punch of ‘Conventional Ride’ and ‘Come Undone’. In the former, we hear again how her differences, difficulties, and preferences might make her a difficult person to remain close to, whether you’d like to or not. In the latter, it’s a case of the protagonist causing problems for herself in a relationship when ‘thinking I love her’ but ‘fucking another’ and being put off when someone she does have feelings for offers those feelings back too readily.
All in all, it’s a frank and intriguing account of love and sex in the current era and is presented in a way that only Marika could manage. As with the themes, the music has also matured. While ‘I’m Not Your Man’ was an exciting and surprising step forward from ‘We Slept at Last’, it did feel a bit hit and miss at times. ‘Any Human Friend’ is the consistently brilliant album that Marika has been threatening with every release. What is particularly exciting is that, with opener ‘Wanderlust’ and the closing two tracks ‘Hold On’ and the absolutely beautiful title track, Marika has found a way to meld the otherworldly folk of her first album with the style and swagger of her second.
Words by Fran Slater