What a difference a couple of years can make. When we last saw Marika Hackman, she was playing solo, dressed in an oversized t-shirt and jeans, strumming moody folkish songs. At the London show to launch her second album, she appeared with a band – The Big Moon – all dressed in huge angel wings. She looked like a pop star.
It’s not just her new entourage and dress. Whereas We Slept At Last was a cult coveted gem, full of spooked fairy tales, its follow-up makes a huge statement of intent from the very beginning. And it’s a very different beast. Even its title – I’m Not Your Man – is a bold swoop; a proud declaration that’s unpicked throughout the record. She’s broken out; no more hushed, melancholic vocals. Hackman 2.0 is lusty, jealous, angry. This time it’s personal, and the confidence with which she attacks it is quite stunning.
Opening track Boyfriend is all sultry, grungy sliding guitars. It sounds like an early Garbage track and sees Hackman telling a story about stealing a man’s girlfriend. She teases: “I’ve got your boyfriend on my mind, I think he knows you stayed with me last night,” and mocks him for thinking that “a woman really needs a man to make her scream.” It’s so bolshie and brazen, and so far removed from the quiet, unassuming Hackman of yore.
The theme runs throughout – the unsettlingly melodic My Lover Cindy sees Hackman’s vocals come to the fore in the chorus, when she’s brutally honest about her intentions with someone she wants to hook-up with: “Cause I’m a greedy pig, I’m gonna get my fill, I’m gonna keep my eyes on the prize and suck you dry.”
But like all good stories, her conniving does come back to bite her, and So Long sees her becoming increasingly, desperately jealous: “Does she stroke your hair, does she wear a fancy perfume…” before settling into another deceptively upbeat chorus: “I can tell you’re lying by your watery eyes, I don’t need to listen to your alibis…”
The plummy vocals of her first release shift sideways, and no longer dominate, but are unleashed for Gina’s World and Cigarette, the two songs most closely aligned with We Slept At Last, and see the band take a back seat. Similar in feel they may be, but these songs sound markedly different. This record feels produced, whereas her first release had the feeling of a bedroom recording. She may have lost the kooky melodrama and charm that she enveloped earlier on, but I’m Not Your Man feels strangely right, if quite startling in its shift in direction.
The audience at her London launch, under the railway arches at Heaven, neatly summed up Hackman’s transition. The smaller, dingier east London venues that had been her natural home have been replaced with the loftiness of Heaven, a venue that’s become known as a sort of ‘in-between’ venue – a pit stop before moving on to the city’s bigger spaces. Instead of the huddles of indie kids silently staring at her and nodding, this crowd was whooping and dancing along, screaming as the opening chords of the radio play-listed singles began. It’s amazing how quickly things have changed, and also how right it feels. As much as we loved We Slept At Last, could we (or her, for that matter) stomach a more logical follow-up? We’ll miss spooky Marika, but we’re intrigued to see where mischievous Marika goes.