Pope Innocent X
11 Track, LP (2012, Universal)
Related: Bertie Blackman.
Whether or not you like the predictably catchy, somewhat samey releases of the triple j darlings – the kind that are overplayed in juice bars and pastel-painted clothing stores – you’d probably agree that Bertie Blackman has a certain something about her. She’s Aussie, first off, and had a grassroots rise to fame in Sydney’s music scene. Blackman also has a daring, unabashed approach to her creative endeavours, which seeps through in those radio-friendlies that have been lifted from her previous three albums. She has an obvious individuality about her. And we like that. Don’t we?
Perhaps the quality I’m searching for is “artistic,” which segues nicely into the fact that Blackman illustrated the cover art for her fourth album, Pope Innocent X. The title itself pays homage to an eerie study by Francis Bacon of an earlier religious artwork. Blackman has visual art in her blood: her father is Charles Blackman, responsible for some of the finest visual interpretations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland since the work’s original images.
And now to the album, whose lead single ‘Mercy Killer’ has justly infiltrated Australian airwaves since its release back in May. In fact, the staccato keyboard hook and the wavering falsetto vocal (“And I wait for regret to come, but it doesn’t ‘cos I had such fun...”) in the pre-chorus has probably snagged itself in your mind’s ear on more than one occasion.
From opener ‘Tremors’, this album reveals itself as part of the female-dominated, fantasy-based movement that has gripped indie music of late. Florence and the Machine, Bat for Lashes and Blackman represent a strong suggestion that the whimsical influence of Kate Bush during the early 1980s – and Tori Amos’ continuation during the ’90s – didn’t fall upon deaf ears. Esoteric, reality-meets-mythology themes buoy the lyrics on ‘Accordion Boat’ and ‘Stella’, and the arrangements that back these motifs are just as otherworldly. Note the production- and composition-based input of Francois Tetaz, who worked with Gotye on Making Mirrors.
Somehow meandering and focused, light and dark, heavy and poppy, the musical contrasts make for an interesting experience. While it’s by no means unfamiliar, it keeps the ear compelled for a good while. It’s a fun record, with a childlike quality. Kind of like a storybook. On standout track ‘Growl Howl’, the M.I.A.-esque beat leads into a portrait of a seductive beast and, again, Kate Bush’s animalistic ‘Hounds of Love’ comes to mind for the vocal howl that reprises with each chorus. Blackman’s aptitude for storytelling is evident. See the endearing ‘Boy’, about a sub-human wannabe: “Using shadows for feet and ladders for teeth, he made a boy-like shape.” (The video is worth a look too.)
Like that falsetto grab from the eternally catchy ‘Mercy Killer’, it comes across that Blackman “had such fun” recording these tunes. Her playfulness exudes throughout, and isn’t that the thing about the triple j favourites? They sound so good through car speakers that often it’s worth letting them play through, predictable or otherwise.
by Amy Middleton