Marika Hackman could never be accused of playing things safe, artistically. After a string of fine releases between 2012 and 2014, including the mini-album That Iron Taste and some excellent singles / EPs, when it came to recording her debut album proper, (2015’s We Slept At Last), she didn’t include a single track from her already impressive catalogue, choosing instead to record 12 brand new songs.
As a singer-songwriter, for want of a better expression, comparisons with Joni Mitchell and Laura Marling were lazy and not very accurate. The pure, mesmerising quality of Hackman’s voice was probably closer to Mark Kozelek and her songs comparable to Nick Drake‘s, as well as perhaps the work of Feist.
On her second album I’m Not Your Man, (recorded with pals The Big Moon acting as her backing band), Hackman has again taken a risk, this time in embracing her ‘pop’ side, (which by her own admission she previously stifled), at the same time as turning up the volume to create a very different record to her debut. Mostly. There are still signs of ‘Marika Mark 1’ in songs like ‘I’d Rather Be With Them’ and the beautiful ‘Cigarette’, which strip back to the simple guitar and voice combination that punctuated much of her early work. But when the album kicks off with a big pop tune like ‘Boyfriend’, which has had heavy rotation on BBC 6Music (amongst other stations), it is clear that there has been a reinvention. The lyrics, as ever, are razor-sharp: “You came to me for entropy and I gave you all I had / He makes a better man than me / So I know he won’t feel bad”, sings Hackman on the opening track.
The other big radio hit (so far) here is the brilliant ‘My Lover Cindy’ which is also highly accessible – a sunny tune hiding quite dark words, which is a Hackman speciality; much of her previous work had quite macabre lyrics that were (deliberately) at odds with the music they accompanied and not always apparent to the causal listener. There is also a great deal of humour, even when addressing serious topics such as sexual identity and feminism.
Hackman has, in the past, spoken of her fondness for Nirvana, which does come across on the album at several points, (and certainly in the recent souped-up live shows!), never more so than on ‘Gina’s World’, which could easily be an In Utero out-take. ‘Violet’ too falls into this category, starting off gently but then rising to a crescendo when drums, bass and fabulous backing vocals come in halfway through.
‘Time’s Been Reckless’ is another unashamed pop moment, the “One two three four / Tell her that you love her more” chanted backing vocals almost sounding like The Go! Team, as unlikely as that sounds. ‘Apple Tree’, meanwhile, begins with a distant spaghetti-western whistling and builds gently, employing as ever, fairly minimal instrumentation which just makes what is there all the more powerful.
Although I’m Not Your Man may seem like quite a radical departure, the signs were maybe there, for instance in the playful ‘Animal Fear’ single from 2015, and Hackman has used live bass and drums to increase the power of her live shows in the past, so in that sense it is a logical progression.
The outcome though is that the album works so well on every level, the quality control as ever is astonishing; I’m Not Your Man is a fantastic addition to the catalogue of this most singular artist.
I’m Not Your Man is released on 2nd June by APB.