Paddy Hanna’s ‘Frankly, I Mutate’ begins by fading into a song already well underway. A reverb-soaked guitar scratches out a melody over the tinkle of an upright piano. It’s a haunting melody and one which feels like it could have beautiful vocals, but the words never come. Instead, Hanna leaves the listener in the dark. This is important to note. The proceeding album is full of Wildean wit and lavish instrumentation, but that opening melody never leaves the listener’s mind. It’s a statement of intent and a reminder.
Hanna is indeed able to say plenty with his lyrics, but the sparse arrangement of I Saw The Men Part II says more. Underneath the many charms and idiosyncrasies of ‘Frankly, I Mutate’ is the constant, dark throb of depression.
Hanna cut his song writing teeth performing with groups such as Grand Pocket Orchestra and No Monster Club before deciding to move onto solo pastures. Releasing his debut album ‘Leafy Stiletto’ in 2014, the artist earned positive attention for his surrealist approach to writing pop music. Four years is a long time to wait to release a sophomore album, but with ‘Frankly, I Mutate’, it’s clear the time was spent wisely. Hanna appears to have undergone a considerable artistic evolution since releasing his debut.
This new album sees improvements across the board. If ‘Leafy Stiletto’ was a rough sketch, ‘Frankly, I Mutate’ feels and sounds like the finished product. The most obvious example of this lies within the excellent instrumental arrangements throughout the record. Hanna paired with Daniel Fox, of Irish noise core group Girl Band, for this very purpose.
Both musicians admittedly share roots in music that’s more overtly aggressive than on ‘Frankly, I Mutate’. However, the compassionate approach to the pop tradition of song writing and attention to the minute details of arrangements throughout this album would never testify to that fact.
Lead single and album highlight Bad Boys illustrates the point perfectly. At its core a sunny folk-rock song, complete with a bouncing rhythm section and finger picked acoustic guitar. On this level, the song sounds like groups like Wilco at their very best. However, the real beauty of ‘Frankly, I Mutate’ is in the details. Atop this folk-rock foundation is a stunning string arrangement, launching the track’s appeal into the stratosphere.
There’s something wonderous in the contrast between Hanna’s new age approach to vocal performance and the classic refinement of these violins. The song has yet more to give. As Hanna pushes his voice on the track’s chorus, a horn section belts out a triumphant secondary melody, straight out of a Matthew E. White number. Now the full picture is revealed. An excellent pop song, layered with the craft of song writing.
It’s vital to discuss Hanna’s lyrical idiom. It’s a cornerstone of ‘Frankly, I Mutate’. It’s also fair to call it a calling card of sorts for Hanna as an artist. It’s hard not to come away with his unique diction in your mind. Refrains such as “I wish I was on my own with Mario Lanza on Christmas day” are intriguing, to say the least. Oddities aside, Hanna’s words are his tools, his artist’s palette. Thematically, the album seems primarily concerned with Hanna’s mental health and the fluid relationship he shares with it.
The emotional spectrum on this record shifts from elation to despair, often within the space of a single track. Even on a love song like All I Can Say Is I Love You the artist suffers a low, Hanna wails “Don’t cry before the morning, that’s what livings for”. As previously stated, the only constant on ‘Frankly, I Mutate’ are the pangs of depression.
If Hanna’s words are among the strongest assets on the album, his vocals are often its weakest point. Hanna’s off-key delivery does stray too far on the side of pitchy from time to time. This is not the problem. For every stellar performance like All I Can Say Is I Love You, there’s at least one lacklustre counterpart such as Spanish Smoke. It’s not the pitch, it’s the passion behind the words. Hanna’s lyrics are full of life, it’s a shame that his delivery of them is sometimes so subdued.
These small problems fail to seriously detract from the album’s overall quality. This is a fantastic album, from start to finish. With ‘Frankly, I Mutate’ Paddy Hanna has released something with an ephemeral beauty into the world.
There is a certain tragedy linked with this beauty. Even by album closer Frankly, I Mutate the artist doesn’t seem to have found any quantifiable closure. There’s no real happy ending to speak of here. This is probably reflective of the ongoing struggle he and many others share with mental health issues. It’s an endless journey, not something fixed over the space of a singular album. At least we’re lucky enough to share and empathise with artists like Hanna.