Album Reviews

Sally Potter – Pink Bikini

(Masterworks) UK release date: 14 July 2023

A debut album from a septuagenarian artist best known for a totally different medium (films), Pink Bikini is an often extraordinary change of direction

Sally Potter - Pink Bikini Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re too old for a career change. Sally Potter is best known as a film director, renowned for arthouse classics such as Orlando and The Party – and now, at the age of 73 years old, she’s released her debut solo album.

The leap from film direction to music isn’t quite as big as you’d imagine for Potter. She’s always been involved in creating her own film scores (she worked on the soundtracks for Orlando and The Tango), and the lyrics contained on Pink Bikini are like little film scripts all on their own.

Pretty much all the songs contained on the album are semi-autobiographical and describe Potter’s experiences growing up as a young woman in 1960s London. There are tales of falling in love, exploring sexuality and protesting against the bomb. These stories are set to a minimal backing, with Potter’s voice being redolent at times of Marianne Faithfull or Françoise Hardy. Fred Firth leads her band on guitar, contributing some intricate arrangements, and the namechecks of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan in Ghosts also gives some indication of the musical style which Potter lays out on her album.

There’s a deeply melancholic air to many of the songs, not only due to the austere arrangements. Potter lays bare the insecurities and fears of adolescence – there’s no bathing in the warm glow of nostalgia here. Indeed, some of the tracks verge on upsetting: the title track in particular sees a 16 year old Potter buying a pink bikini on holiday, and then being labelled a “whore, slag” by the local boys. “I thought that’s what you do, if you’re 16, in a bikini” runs one particular poignant line, rendered all the more effective by Potter’s deadpan delivery. Even in the freewheeling ’60s, it seems, ‘slut-shaming’ was sadly still alive and well.

There’s a Spanish guitar flavour to Ginger Curls, which tells the sad tale of an identity crisis sparked from the simple task of cutting one’s own hair, while Hymn sings of intense crushes on friends while growing up. Black Mascara meanwhile describes that most universal teenage rite of passage – that of hanging out in parks, “reading John-Paul Satre” and arguing with parents.

Although these songs are resolutely set in a particular time and place, there are parallels to today. Pretty much all teenagers will experience the turbulence and trauma of everyday life, while songs like Black & White Badge parallels the idealism of Potter’s teenage CND demonstrator with today’s youthful activists.

And the fact that these are stories and sung from the perspective of a 70something gives them an added poignancy, especially tracks like the closing Dance Girl Dance, which celebrates the start of endless possibility – possibilities that are often only recognised with the benefit of age.

Over the course of a full album, Potter’s vocals sometimes veer towards being a bit too mannered, and it’s true that some of the arrangements can feel a bit one-note at times. Yet, considering this is a debut album from an artist best known for a totally different medium, Pink Bikini is an often extraordinary change of direction for Sally Potter.

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Sally Potter – Pink Bikini