A debut album for Isabella Manfredi has landed (review pending, if you’re interested), but it’s not her first rodeo, her past containing two albums (and two spellings), a top 10 in the Hottest 100, six ARIA nominations, and a win in the Vanda & Young Songwriting Competition, with the band The Preatures (nee, The Preachers).
Wind Back Wednesday takes a short turn back to the second, and last, of The Preachers’ albums, 2018’s Girlhood. It had deep connections to the past, but can we see signs for her future?
There’s a question for Isabella Manfredi in the title track opening the new album from The Preatures, does she have “whatever makes me a modern girl”? Heroism or self-centredness? Beauty or its inadequate substitute?
She has her doubts about the whole idea but there’s an answer here, musically speaking anyway. The thing that makes her a modern girl, makes The Preatures a modern band and Girlhood a modern album is that it surely has walked in via a tear in the time/space continuum from the 1980s.
From The Divinyls and Ultravox to Madonna and Eno-period U2, from post-Breakfast Club Simple Minds and Berlin to Jenny Morris and Starship (and both Chaka Khan and Debarge), Girlhood references them all.
Often enough deliberately, because as I say the sound de jour pour tout le monde includes thick keyboards and outbreaks of synths which project a kind of big shoulder futurism; vocals sung in an impossibly shiny, reflective booth; guitars which don’t ever pierce the veil but do throw themselves gaily at it; pop riding hands-and-heels on each musical horse; occasional light funk basslines.
And there’s a song called (and spelled) Nite Machine. Done. Dusted.
These aren’t criticisms by the way. The sound reproduction is well done – I had a sudden craving for blackened fish and chocolate mousse midway through my second listen – and there’s nothing wrong with tapping into the zeitgeist.
What’s more, Manfredi, Jack Moffitt, Thomas Champion and Luke Davison have a feel for pop that sees something like Cherry Ripe roll over you like a happy cross between Borderline and Crazy For You (without the processed Madonna vocals), Magick practically soundtrack Goose and Maverick on the fly, and Lip Balm bounce like an MTV filmclip with arm-swinging dancers and pastel shirts just waiting around the corner.
But pastels is where I have the problem with Girlhood, which is a perfectly good record in need of a strong burst of colour. Of power. Of, to be frank, excess.
These songs are comfortable in their retro-fashion but The Preatures haven’t brought enough zest to these melodies, enough drive in the rock foundations, enough groove in the rhythms to really own the space.
It should punch you but it pushes instead, like they hesitated at the last minute and thought, nah, we might be laughed at if we do all of that.
Yeah, they might have got that, but in words which might have/should have filled a power ballad from the 1980s. if you’re going to go, go all the way.