It’s been two years since Pixx, aka Hannah Rodgers, introduced herself to the world with her debut album The Age Of Anxiety. Although Rodgers had graduated from the same performing school as the likes of Katie Melua, Adele and Amy Winehouse, she seemed a bit different from other BRIT school alumni – there was something a bit otherworldly about her glacial electropop with an edge.
Now comes the follow-up, Small Mercies, and it’s clear that Rodgers isn’t one to retread past glories. Although the synth sound of The Age Of Anxiety is still present, there’s a louder, angrier atmosphere being unleashed as well – it’s certainly hard to hear the howling guitar rush on Bitch or Mary Magdalene and imagine it’s the same artist from two years previously.
There’s a playful edge to much of Small Mercies too, which comes with the added confidence that a second album can bring. Opening track Andean Condor casts Rodgers as the titular predatory bird of prey – “dance for me, boy – give me a twirl, I want to get to know you” – but with a twist: “but I probably won’t blow you”.
There are so many little influences hidden away that you can almost become dizzy. Both parts one and two of Dirt Interlude sound like an old Chumbawamba song backed by 808 State (that’s a lot better than it sounds, incidentally), while there’s more than a nod to Nirvana in the guitar riffs of standout track Bitch. In fact, at times it recalls that other idiosyncratic voice, Du Blonde, especially in the cool guitar pop of Hysterical.
There are some weighty topics covered on Small Mercies, such as excessive control in a relationship, toxic masculinity and religion. That latter theme crops up on the excellent Disgrace (“We did not know what to say, we had nothing to confess that day, anything to get out of this place”) and on the huge-sounding Mary Magdalene, in which Rodgers spits out lines like “it turns him on to see me vulnerable and cold, I come for once, but you don’t come at all” as guitars clatter and squeal behind her.
If there’s a criticism to be made of Small Mercies it’s probably that the constant leaping from one style to another means the album has a lack of cohesion at points – and the guitar led tracks such as Bitch and Mary Magdalene are so thrilling that it sometimes feels like a step backwards when Rodgers goes back to the synths. Rodgers’ voice can also be an acquired taste; she tends to sound a bit too deadpan and emotionless on the slower numbers.
Yet if anything those are minor quibbles: Small Mercies is, in effect, the sound of an artist still exploring and refining her sound, building on the strengths of The Age Of Anxiety and creating something that sounds different, yet also a natural progression. There are far more high points than low, all of which indicates that Pixx’s third album could well be something very special.