As the old adage says, whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. But after what Catherine Anne Davies, better known as The Anchoress, went through over the past few years, it’s amazing her debut album Confessions of a Romance Novelist came out at all. The singer and multi-instrumentalist’s run of horrific luck began when she injured her hand so badly that she had to re-learn how to play the piano. A car crash, a death, three jobs and two arrests followed. At this point, most people might have thrown in the towel, but not Davies. She approached former Mansun frontman Paul Draper to help produce her album and, a little later than planned, Confessions of a Romance Novelist was finally released earlier this year.
The record is an ode to all things literary and dramatic, its often gothic undertones and soundscapes often paired with mainstream pop sensibilities. So while opener ‘Long Year’ is steeped in the type of darkness Nick Cave would like to wallow in, songs like ‘Popular’ are reminiscent of the off-kilter, yet light and catchy, work of acts like Marina and the Diamonds. As haunting moments go, they don’t come more spine-tingling than ‘Bury Me,’ where Davies’ emotionally wrought voice is set against a backdrop of sparse strings and piano; it gives Tori Amos a run for her money.
Much of The Anchoress’ appeal, though, lies in Davies’ ability to deftly tackle well-worn subjects without the faintest hint of cliché. ‘What Goes Around’ seems like a typical slice of revenge-pop but while you’re waiting for one party to get their comeuppance, you realise that this is actually a tale about maintaining equilibrium. The wonderfully titled ‘P.S. Fuck You’ is a kiss-off anthem where Davies’ pained singing of lines like “You fed me your bullshit for so many years,” feels less like an angry diatribe and more like a redemptive, cathartic healing process thanks to its plainspoken nature. The aforementioned ‘Popular’ juxtaposes its odd-pop melodies with lines that dig deep into social expectations and norms (“I’m gonna name my bastard children/After children of the Russian Tsars” being a beautifully abrasive example). Even the song titles contain wit. Closer ‘Rivers of Ice’ features Catherine A.D, Davies’ moniker before adopting The Anchoress, demonstrating her own self-awareness.
While there was a long wait for Confessions of a Romance Novelist, its lovingly crafted, often genre-defying songs, smart lyricism and fearless presentation of different facets of womanhood is finally marking Davies out as an exceptionally talented writer and musician. Like a good book, she makes music to get lost in, to analyse and reflect on, and for those of us who want something a little more literary in their pop stars.
Confessions of a Romance Novelist is out now.
Photo credit: Isabella Charlesworth