It must not be easy to be Anna Calvi in 2011.
The English newborn star, of Italian fatherhoods, embodies all the pros and cons of a musician in the Internet millennium. A parabolic system that sees artist going from unknown to worldwide fame in a blink with the risk that the slope is as steep as the rise.
A system that too often aims at making an impact without patience. Instead of building up on quality and perseverance, builds up on sensationalism and exaggerated quotes.
Internet, which today means social networking and the blogs are the shock and awe media of performing arts. In a rush to be the first discovering the next big thing (a British mania) new artists are praised and launched when they are still in the recording studio.
I am not claiming that in such an evolving scenario artists should be in their lazy porch writing songs for the sake of the song and pretend to compete with the post myspace streams, but being swallowed in such a frenetic mechanism can strangle and Anna Calvi may be one of the victims. The list of hyped then forgotten band is ever-growing CSS, Howling Bells, We are Scientists, Gossip, Duffy…
The hype mechanism used to embrace an artist at the first album to abandon them at the second, now it looks quicker, they embrace an artist at the first single and may abandon them when the debut album is released.
Virtually unknown in 2010, Anna Calvi was first picked by the BBC sound of 2011 poll with the debut out in January. She has been rocketed on the cyberspace and is still orbiting with the feeling a landing strategy hasn’t been thought.
Backed by artists and VIP of the music industry, magazines started the race to be the first to claim the discovery.
Hyperboles arrived from Nick Cave to Brian Eno who said she is “the biggest thing since Patti Smith”. Who could cope with such a comparison when you still have to release your first album? It can make you dizzy and lose touch with the real.
The self-titled debut album came out in January, it instantly got outstanding reviews with NME, UNCUT, Guardian, New York Times and many more all praising the record. Rough Trade voted it Album of the Month.
Reviews name everyone as an inspiration from the ubiquitus PJ Harvey to Mogwai.
Now lazy journalism is everywhere but it is not always true that a woman playing electric guitar does sound like PJ Harvey, having Rob Ellis producing the album cannot transform you into PJ Harvey and opening the album with a guitar instrumental isn’t automatic making you a post-rocker.
She doesn’t shows much modesty either. When asked to name her inspiration she flies high. From Jimi Hendrix to David Bowie, from Nick Cave to Debussy, from Nina Simone to Captain Beefheart the sources Anna Calvi uses to frame her style are audacious.
Expectations all set, time for her to deliver.
The album surely is a good album. A collection of well played and beautiful sang songs. Refined arrangements giving the sound a dark feeling that contrasts perfectly with the blonde girl with green eyes. Dressed in red and black she cleverly knows how to build up her sex appeal.
The album does not have a lot in common with PJ Harvey to me, PJ has never sung like this in here entire career and never had a guitar sound so crystalline. Anna fits more with Florence’s big voice and her “punk” attitude reminds Siouxsie‘s most romantic period. Songs are big as her voice, ballads are epic and tones are warm, hinting at a love for blues and jazz. Desire, I’ll be your man or Morning light are from the titles the songs best representing this.
As usual I need to see an artist live to be convinced.
In these six months of her career Anna Calvi has already opened for the like of Nick Cave’s Grinderman and Interpol. Tonight she is headlining the NME Radar tour together with someone I have already forgotten, basically she is the only star of this year line up.
Unfortunately it is an unlucky show, the day before she had injured an arm at Brighton Great Escape festival and couldn’t play guitar throughout the short set.
She resists the pain and plays Rider to the Sea showing good guitar skills but nothing above average. The concert gets better when she concentrates on singing. Undeniably she has a special, profound voice. She reminds me the intensity of Howling Bells’ first album or Florence at her deepest.
The songs pay the price of being a bit too similar, even because on stage the rest of the instruments decorating the album are missing and they are stripped down to basic. Tonight there is a drummer, a girl playing multiple instruments and a guitarist helping because of her injured arm.
The guitar parts Anna plays are bit pedantic as if the album version is the only version possible (which leaves the Jimi Hendrix influence aside). The sound is clean more David Gilmour that PJ Harvey.
The show closes early with Anna Calvi apologizing for her problem, receiving a double dose of applause for her effort.
I am left with the memory of a high-class, warm voice that is closer to elegant arias than to lo-fi indie-rock festivals. Perfect to be heard sitting at a table of a Jazz Café’ sipping a single malt smoked whisky. It’d be a very smoky place if smoke were allowed.
If Anna Calvi manages to resists the hype, escape the cliché and is left enough time to develop her style I wouldn’t be surprised to see her moving away from NME space into adult songwriting. It looks the natural place for her voice and her telecaster.
She deserves more time and less pressure. She doesn’t need more skills, the talent is clearly all there.
A special addition a portrait of Anna Calvi shot at the Field Day Festival in London.