At a young age, Wallis Bird managed to lose five of her fingers after an unfortunate encounter with a lawnmower. A doctor managed to sew four of them back on and while Wallis was forever lost to the world of gardening, her suitably adapted guitar technique has seen her forge a career as a female songwriter with an angry, skewed vision of the world, mired in pop hooks and bracing sincerity.
Of course, such chroniclers of angst are ten-a-penny but Wallis Bird is remarkably difficult to pigeonhole. Her first two albums, Spoons and New Boots were splayed with power chords and potent songwriting, garnering critical acclaim and awards in her native Ireland, a modicum of fame in mainland Europe. Bird also began to attract a notoriously fervent and impassioned fanbase, spurred on by the singer’s ferocious live shows and heartfelt lyricism.
Her eponymously titled third album shakes things up even further. Unquestionably a product of the metropolitan miasmas which she calls home, namely Berlin and Brixton, Wallis Bird is teeming with nods to last year’s riots and careering, fleeting existences amid the dread of urban decay. Bird’s form of capital (city) punishment evoked is harsh, angry and unrelenting with only sporadic moments of clarity amid the crumble.
“You don’t know shit” is the opening line; the final track is entitled Polarised. And what this album displays is a remarkably polarised artist, constantly shifting from bruised confessionals to sudden outbursts of hoarse-throated hectoring. And when this works, it grooves and shimmers with a confidence and style the likes of Ani DiFranco can only dream of. Lead single Encore is a wonderfully catchy, hook laden, radio friendly sprint through never-ending civil chaos. However, it’s on the other upbeat tracks where Bird seems willing to push her voice to its extremes, bolstered by an invasive, often smother production. Indeed, strip away the latter and Who’s Listening Now? could be a generic metal screamer, while I Am So Tired of That Line matches another assault on the vocal chords in a vaguely funky setting. But the more lavish the arrangements, the more stiff the workouts. No amount of engineering tweaks and sonic sleights-of-hand can disguise the rockist aesthetic at work here.
But all of a sudden, a few curveballs are thrown into the mix. Ghosts of Memories evokes the pastoral skeletisism of Nina Nastasia, which builds into a surprisingly affecting ballad. Heartbeating City is a colourful bounce through calypso rhythms, bouncing percussion and woodwind trills while the precise pronunciation of In Dictum recalls the stadium-sized folk of The Frames, particularly with its trad adornments.
Throughout the 11 tracks on Wallis Bird, our eponymous hero not only flirts but full-on consummates with all manner of styles and trends with the singers passion providing the sole thread. This makes the album a rather uneven listen. Bird herself described the album as containing ‘coming-of-age confessionals’ but rather than shedding light on her muse, the miscellany of influences on offer here simply serves to further cloud Wallis Bird in a haze of ever-evolving musical cloaks. Wallis Bird is a worthy addition to her catalogue but Bird is still searching for that sense of self amid the musical trappings. That’s not to say this album doesn’t have its moments – it does. It’s just they are all too careering and fleeting, just like the big city contradictions Bird so earnestly exudes.