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Album Review: “Party on, Papillon!”

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Having hugely enjoyed Anna Secret Poet’s earlier album “Tits of Steel” (as hilarious as it sounds, and a great antidote to a depressing workplace where listening to offbeat deadpan punk-poetry ought to be mandatory for mental health), I was eager to hear her latest offering, and was thoroughly entertained, amused, and really very impressed (especially as, by her own admission, recording sessions typically took place in her bedroom). This is not to to categorise it as a mere collection of comic songs – if anything, it is less overtly comical than its predecessor; darker and edgier – although fans will be pleased to know it retains the sharp, laconic wit of her earlier offerings.

Musically, the emphasis is towards a harder, more rock-oriented sound, with some particularly stunning guitar work which it is very hard to believe was mastered in a home studio (although that may account for my one criticism: as with the previous album, the lyrics can occasionally be overwhelmed by music or distortion on the heavier tracks). Anna’s singing is also very impressive, and in spite of her self-deprecation in “Limited Appeal” – a rock and roll pastiche in which she talks of having a “manly voice” – she demonstrates a remarkable vocal range on this album (especially in “The Cat That Got the Dream” – another of the album’s strong rock offerings).

Acoustic offerings are fewer on this album, although the intro and outro both take that form, and have the playful, whimsical humour that characterised much of “Tits of Steel.” Humour on the rest of this album tends to the dark side, especially with “Aunty Semitic and Uncle Adolf” (which one can’t help but feel is written very much for our current times of frightening but absurd resurgent far-right movements) and “Still Ragin’ After All These Years,” which deals with the poet’s existential crises in an ironically bouncy, happy-go-lucky arrangement that owes more than a bit to Paul McCartney (as she hilariously acknowledges, but to say more would be a spoiler). Also on the softer side of arrangements is “Anna vs The Festival” which delightfully recounts the pleasures and pains of being an itinerant performance poet and drag artist at a muddy festival.

Powerfully performed and wittily composed, testimony to its creator’s dual talent as poet and musician, “Party on, Papillon!” is a very worthy follow-up to its predecessor, and worth many listenings.

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Album Review: “Tits of Steel”

A brilliantly eclectic combination of performance poetry and punk …

I was lured to this album by C. T. Herron’s glowing review that gave me very high expectations for it, and they were not disappointed … much to my relief, as Anna has been a supporter of this blog since its early days, so it is really nice to be able to write of her work with heartfelt praise.

I should point out, though, that the title claim of Track 4, “I Don’t Know Any Funny Songs,” is a blatant lie, or at any rate unwarranted modesty, as this album is a masterpiece in ironic wit. There seems to be something about Celtic accents that lend themselves nicely to that, so that we can hardly concur when Anna sings later on the album, “I wish I was French but I’m Scottish instead.” (Track 7, “Anna en Francais”) Somehow, her combination of pithy satire and utter surrealism just wouldn’t be the same without her dry, laconic, Glaswegian tones.

Which is not to say that the album is purely an exercise in comic poetry. The musicianship is stunning right from the first, heavy rock track, and continues to show versatility throughout, seamlessly tackling hilarious pastiches of reggae, techno, and funk. The only criticism I could make is one of mastering, in that sometimes the music overwhelms the lyrics, although that would well just be the fault of my inadequate setup (so do try to listen to this on decent sound equipment, as it deserves, rather than a phone speaker or a pair of cheap Flying Tiger headphones).

The whole album was an absolute pleasure for me, but if I had to select highlights, I would probably go for “I Don’t Know Any Funny Songs” (an acoustic number and, as mentioned, a total inaccuracy), “Anna en Francais” (witty, surreal, and all-too-easy for this struggling student of French to sympathise with), and “Catch The Tiger” (which starts off as a series of bizarre self-help style affirmations to a driving, upbeat tune, then turns a corner into something downbeat and ironic, which appeals so totally to my inner cynic).

This is a stunning independent production, the skill and variety of the music perfectly complementing Anna’s wickedly amusing lyrics. The very easily offended might not care for it, but I have no hesitation recommending it to everyone else.