Dominant and submissive, giver and taker, stronger and weaker, desired and desirer, acceptor and disruptor, me and you, male and female. “I’ll be the boy, you be the girl/I’ll be the girl, you be the boy.”
Getting the message? Don’t come to Anna Calvi with anything fixed in your mind except openness because there’s virtually no door closed here – unless she’s closed it on you, done with it for now – and the fluidity is in everything. And that begins with control. “I divide and conquer.”
There is power in so much of this album, including in the moments where she chooses to shed that power – chooses being the operative word – with the kind of rolling force of drums and bass (from the reliably fabulous man for force, poise, and unencumbered sensuality, Martyn P. Casey of the Bad Seeds) that can be predatory but also thrilling, and the flexibility and incision of guitar that can prick or slice or chop right through.
“I’ve got one more wish before I die,” she says in Wish, and you better believe that is not a request even before she snakes and stomps through a solo that is all too brief - but limber AF - until it disappears into a cloud of synths and voices and mood alterations.
Yet in succumbing, in for example baring the “weakness” of desire – that passing of control to another that whether reciprocated or not removes all defences – Calvi also accepts that this is both a welcome state and an inevitable one. So in Away, guitars can be subdued, rhythm sections sublimated into “shadows of mine”, and tenderness is both what precedes an exchange and what is left after it. “This is a moment sublime … just take it all.”
Hunter is a super sharp album about blurriness, a perceptive album about need that is no respecter of arbitrary lines of gender or age or time. She doesn’t just play with roles and their benefits/burdens, as in the sloe-eyed sensualist As A Man, where she asks “If I was a man, and opened my body …oh when it’s dark and many will meet me/Something has changed, a feeling, discreetly”, she takes them in and absorbs them as a step to something else. As she says elsewhere, “I want to know if I can satisfy, I want to know if I can pacify”.
The album’s title track, with her breathing a percussive force and the cross-message imagery of “I dressed myself in leather, with flowers in my hair” potent, has a heavy intent but light touch in its rhythm, a Bowie-in-Berlin intersection of keyboards and guitar and a vocal that teeters on the edge of melodrama.
That edge of melodrama is cleared in the dramatic swirl of Alpha (a blend of art disturbance and creeping lust), and the sensual marker of Chain (which is like a companion piece to some of Alex Turner’s recent work with Arctic Monkeys), but also in the chasing-you-in-the-dark-streets sweaty implications of Wish, and especially in the lurching beast of prey that is Indies Or Paradise.
In that last song, “down on my knees, crawling through the trees”, Calvi declares that she “can taste the dirt” and that is not said with fear or distaste. Her voice rises from subterranean to guttural to sternly commanding before its cut off by a serrated guitar that slides between caterwaul and serration, only itself to fall back in the face of the returning whisper-to-a-scream voice.
Three albums in, Anna Calvi has cast aside restraints - personal, emotional and musical – which takes no small effort. But Hunter shows that work has set her free.