BLIND TASTE TEST: Ladyhawke – Ladyhawke

After taking on a couple of recent BTTs himself, it’s time for James Spearing to dish out a challenge to someone else. This time, it’s Fran Slater’s turn to take on Ladyhawke’s 2008 debut.

Fran, Fran, Fran. After Radiohead and Weezer, not a good track record on these things for us so far. As much as we love to argue, I think we do have more music in common that you’d like to admit. So here’s Ladyhawke by, erm, Ladyhawke.

I bloody loved this album when it came out. And twelve years later it still sounds great. 

Basing this recommendation on one song that I know you love that sounds a bit like some of this album is definitely a risk, though.

But let me explain my thinking.

There is a common core of female led early 80s new wave/soft rock running through both Ladyhawke and Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Seventeen’. 

The difference with Ladyhawke is it’s also distinctive of the output of the Modular label around the time of release – a sound I was obsessed with. So perhaps not so straightforward a guitar band sound as Sharon, but don’t be put off by the synths. ‘Magic’, ‘My Delirium’, ‘Another Runaway’, ‘Back of the Van’, ‘Paris is Burning’, and ‘Oh My’ are anthems every bit as good as ‘Seventeen’. Any album would be jealous of having six songs that good on it – and the rest aren’t half bad either.

So over to you. Please try and enjoy it, a bit.

Well James, you are certainly tantalising my tastebuds with a promise of an album full of ‘Seventeen’ style bangers – so let’s see if you deliver. That was one of my favourite songs of 2019 and I have, in many ways, been searching and failing to find a sound like that one ever since. Maybe today’s the day.

Right now I would say that my knowledge of Ladyhawke is that they aren’t Ladytron or Lonelady, but other than that I’m coming up empty.

Pressing play now:

Oooohh – opening chords and only one word stands out from your intro. Eighties. It’s dramatic, I’m imagining them doing the Vogue in the video, neon stripes of make-up on their faces, shiny crop tops and fishnet tights. Basically The Wedding Singer. This is so eighties that Boy George just turned up at my front door asking for his decade back. None of that is to say it’s bad (or good) though – after song one, I’m as on the fence as I was before we started. I’ll need convincing but I’m not out of the game just yet…

‘Manipulating Woman’ follows ‘Magic’ and calms things down a little bit. Less make up in this video. I’m struggling to find anything even approaching a Sharon Van Etten sound as yet, but maybe searching for that is distracting me so I’ll try to stop. This song is a bit too much for me, though – there’s a chanty, shiny sheen that I find it hard to get past. 

How will I go with ‘My Delirium’? Actually, I think I know this one – I recognise that chorus for sure. It was a single, right? I think the fact that I know this song and yet I never searched them out says pretty much all I need to say about this one. Far from awful, but not something that hooks me in. Catchiest chorus so far, though. And actually, I’ve just reached the breakdown of the song and there’s a briefly gorgeous guitar tone before we all get back into the time machine and back to a 1982 dance floor and put on our Zoot Suits. 

‘Better Than Sunday’ maintains the majorly 80s sounds, but there is something much more appealing about the tone and the vocal performance here. This sounds like St Vincent to me. If you cut the chorus away from this one, I could happily listen to it all day – the clipped, hushed vocals during the verses are pretty inviting and with a couple of less layers on this song than the previous ones it feels like something I can more easily get my ears around. Highlight so far.

Boy George is back at my door for ‘Another Runaway.’ For an album that came out in 2008, Ladyhawke sounds more eighties than many of the albums I know from the eighties. This is the first time I can hear a hint of what you meant by the Sharon link, though – and I think if you stripped the dramatics off the top of this song it might be something like ‘Comeback Kid’ from Remind Me Tomorrow. Unfortunately, I can’t strip by the dramatics.  I just don’t know how. 

I’m going to stop the track-by-track run down for a little while here, as I am basically noticing a pretty clear pattern by the time we get to ‘Love Don’t Live Here.’ I don’t hate anything here. But there is a sheen over everything that is stopping me from getting anything like close to these songs. They’re made for a disco, and that’s not a place you’ll find me unless I somehow end up back in my Fresher’s Week from the year this album came out. There’s a dedication to a decade that doesn’t really do it for me, musically. Not on any large scale, anyway.

Among the album’s second half, we have a couple more songs in which the verses do a lot for me but the choruses threaten to push me away. ‘Back of the Van’ makes the best use of our lead singer’s voice, but the chorus just adds too much drama. ‘Professional Suicide’ has the album’s darkest edges but the most basic moments too. Although if St Vincent says she wasn’t influenced by this one on her latest single then I’ll call her a liar. 

‘Dusk Till Dawn’ is a particular low point as we work our way to the end – I think she’s singing about sex, but equally, with the drab way in which she delivers the chorus, it could be about a new neighbour hanging pictures overnight. And ‘Oh My’ is another that threatens to be a high point but never quite delivers. 

I will give some props to ‘Crazy World’, though. In an album that looked like it was never going to grab hold of me, this one does – to a degree. It has a little more subtlety, it lets you in a little closer, and, James, it lets me believe that you weren’t totally off your head when you linked Ladyhawke to Sharon Van Etten. I can hear that here. 

By the time we reach the end, though, I have to admit that only one feeling really remains. Indifference. This isn’t the horrible failure of Weezer, but nor is it an introduction to an album I’m likely to spend any more time with. I can see how Ladyhawke may well have influenced some important artists at work today – there are hints of St Vincent all over this (although it is the St Vincent albums I like less that I’m remembering as I listen to Ladyhawke). 

In the end, I am not going to claim that it is any failing on Ladyhawke’s fault that stops me from being a fan here. It is simply my tastes. I think Ladyhawke wanted to create an album of synth-laden, 80s-facing, power pop and they have done that in spades. It’s just not for me. You asked me not to be put off by the synths in your intro, James – but I think that’s exactly what did for me in the end. I’d be fascinated to hear a version of this with the synths pared down or stripped away completely. The keyboards, too, maybe. 

So this is not the one – but we’ll get there James. Successful Blind Taste Tests are just around the corner…

Right?

Words by Fran Slater.

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