When she’s not being The Anchoress, Catherine Anne Davies is a regular collaborator with Manic Street Preachers (it’s her voice you’ll hear on their song Dylan & Caitlin), tours with the legendary Simple Minds and even found time last year to dust down an old recording with Bernard Butler, In Memory Of My Feelings, and turn it into one of the albums of the year.
Her day job though is The Anchoress, and she released her debut album Confessions Of A Romance Novelist back in 2016. That album was impressive enough, but the follow-up feels like an event – right from the short piano and cello instrumental sections that bookend and weave through the record, The Art Of Losing feels like a palpable step up for Davies.
The themes that her album tackles are weighty ones – grief, loss and trauma are all explored, as you’d expect from a record recorded against the backdrop of her father’s death and recurrent miscarriages. If that sounds like you could be in for a depressing hour of listening though, nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead, Davies takes that loss and turns it into something intense and life-affirming. The title track is a stirring synth-pop classic that slinks and stalks itself into your heart while asking questions like “what did you learn when life was unkind, was there some purpose to losing my mind”. It’s a similar story with the glossy, ’80s tinged Show Your Face, while later in the album, The Confessor builds up and up to an instrumental crescendo that becomes utterly gripping.
Davies’ impressive voice is at its best on The Exchange, duetting with old friend James Dean Bradfield over an impressive wall of sound that recalls the Manics’ best moments. Yet it’s the quieter, more reflective moments that stay in the memory – the beautiful With The Boys is built on some haunting piano and strings, and All Farewell Should Be Sudden shows off Davies’ productions skills at their best, beginning hushed and fragile before slowly displaying it’s more muscular side.
It’s the dramatic album centrepiece of 5am that’s the real standout though – a deceptively pretty piano line weaves through the song which deals with assault, trauma and loss. The chorus of “red red blood is dripping and I can’t speak” is one that will haunt the listener for hours after playing, no matter how much you may not want it to.
Like Davies’ collaboration with Bernard Butler, The Art Of Losing has been sat awaiting release for some time (it was actually finished in 2019). Yet that delay may work to its advantage – in our era of the pandemic and lockdown, we’re all dealing with loss, grief and loneliness to varying degrees. These intense, dramatic songs are the perfect companion to these times – at long last, The Anchoress is stepping out of the shadow of her famous friends to show that she’s an almighty talent in her own right.