Second album syndrome is a fairly common problem with artists. A band’s debut goes astronomical and then, with added pressure heaped on its successor, the follow up is weak. Examples are many, from The Stone Roses to Bloc Party to the The Strokes, and the reasons are understandable. An artist has their whole life to write, record and release their first album and only a few years for the follow up. Add to that the added pressure of a record company, the public and a heavy touring schedule and you begin to wonder how it’s not a pandemic.
Anna Calvi is a prime candidate for second album syndrome. With her debut album ‘Anna Calvi’ she picked up nominations for BBC Sound of 2011, The Mercury Music Prize and The Brit Awards to go with four and five star reviews almost across the board. And now, two years later, the Londoner is back with ‘One Breath’.
The good news is that this Ms Calvi is no one album wonder. ‘One Breath’, while not quite scaling the same heights as ‘Anna Calvi’, is a fine and more distilled offering of her sound. Where the debut had disparate influences and sounds (all of which worked), ‘One Breath’ sounds like an artist who is truly finding their own sound.
Calvi’s willingness to let her own voice be heard is evident right from the start. Suddenly starts out almost as a hymn before… eh… suddenly a cacophony of instruments takes the listener in a different direction, waking them from their slumber. It’s a technique she uses frequently throughout the album.
Cry builds slowly towards one moment of explosive desperation, both vocally and instrumentally through the off key horns. Love of My Life meanwhile is a muddy, tortured (by perhaps pleasure more than pain) song with a slow, skuzzy build up to a screamed blast of “Got to be the love of my life” before the whole thing dies down again.
Tristan and lead single Eliza have an uplifting show tune quality about them. They also offer the perfect example of Calvi’s vocal confidence to add to her undoubted quality. Elsewhere, Piece by Piece and Sing to Me have an ethereal, dream like quality. The former though is that bit more haunted, with “I will forget you piece by piece” offering as an ominous outro to a claustrophobic song. One Breath meanwhile sounds like something off PJ Harvey’s ‘White Chalk’.
It’s not a perfect album, nor does it ever truly become great. Closers Bleed into Me and The Bridge fall a little and the album feels over by the end of Carry Over Me; perhaps the highlight of the set. A little bit more of a spark or something unexpected wouldn’t go amiss and one truly great song would make it unforgettable. PJ Harvey will not have to move from her throne just yet, but ‘One Breath’ remains an enjoyable listen.