Abigail Hopkins has been pursuing her eclectic muse over three albums now and it has not got any easier to try and nail down exactly where she is coming from and what she is trying to achieve. The Memoirs Of An Outlaw was originally released last year but is now being relaunched thanks to a new distribution deal.
The offspring of a famous acting family, Hopkins is also active in the theatre as both director and actor and this theatrical background cuts to the heart of her music; it’s easy to imagine the 12 songs on The Memoirs Of An Outlaw adapted for the stage, and Hopkins has a way with narrative and characters that wouldn’t rule out her trying her hand at story writing in the future.
The protagonist of the opening Used Car Salesman is a fine example of Hopkins’s lyrical sleight of hand, with the line “It’d been a long time he’d looked up at the stars/or felt the soft breeze on his face/or the cushiony clutch of his wife’s embrace” as evocative as any novelist’s most purple prose. The voodoo vibe of the percussion adds to a genuinely unsettling mood piece that essays the price of selling your soul to a job, with Hopkins’s PJ Harvey-styled vocal mannerisms adding a suitably devilish tone.
Hopkins is not always the easiest vocalist to listen to, and it is difficult to find a steady anchor sometimes as she flits between different styles to suit the mood of a song. The regretful tone of the title track is somewhat distorted by Hopkins choosing to swoop around the melody line in a manner more befitting Sarah Brightman.
She is best when she sticks to the Harvey impressions, but these moments are few are far between. Too often she opts for the overly dramatic, which is maybe the drawback when you come from an acting background, and the pitch are tone are all over the place.
There are some lovely musical moments on The Memoirs Of An Outlaw, which makes the vocal inconsistencies all the more infuriating. Dried Flowers and When Skylarks Fall find Hopkins and co-writer John Winfield moving into sweet folk territory, and are all the better for the lack of melodrama.
Elsewhere, the ragbag of characters that populate the songs allow Hopkins to play around with structure and imagery to interesting effect, giving her narratives of life lived on the edge a depth that repays repeated listens. Miriam The Medium is the key track here, investing a conventional folk storytelling device with a very post-modern psychological slant.
The album’s best melody is saved to last on the closing No Turning Back, on which Hopkins’s thankfully restrained vocal tales the tell of a comfortable life unravelling as painful memories bubble to the surface.
Hopkins is certainly different, although she sometimes tries to stretch her own musical boundaries too far, with her vocal peculiarities upending several promising tracks. But for all that, lovers of left-field folk noir could do worse than giving The Memoirs Of An Outlaw a spin.