Looking back at her strict and suffocating Catholic upbringing, Hannah Rodgers used this experience as a starting point for questioning humanity’s relationship with God, gender politics and her own self-worth. She wonders about control and who claims to have it on Small Mercies, her bold and humorous second album under the project name Pixx.
The first single released from the new record, the well-written ‘Disgrace’ dives deep into Catholicism and paints a detail picture of what it could be like to grow up within that religion. It’s a great re-introduction to Pixx’s music, as her trademark posh-English accented expression and energetic 80s post-punk-meets-new wave rhythms returns with such evocative and honest lyrics about being a religious child that they warrant a documentary-style reenactment.
The lyrics: “You’re going to live and be good. They said to us as if we understood. But I did not want a new name. You were the ones calling up to the saints” are delivered with idiosyncratic sarcasm and reflect just one of her many states of mind at the time; confusion. That emotion is followed by frustration (“We should have been out playing ball. Instead we were trapped behind these brick walls”), desperation (“We had nothing to confess that day. Anything to get out of this place”) and finally madness (“But I did not want to love greed. I was the one who was going insane”). Yet one of the most intriguing lines is the last repeated sentence: “Shall we see who’s pullin’ the strings?” This philosophical question compliments Small Mercies’ dollhouse album artwork and the record’s interesting switch of perspectives and relay of who holds the baton of control.
With Toy Story 4 on the horizon, the frantic melodic-rock-electro fusion ‘Funsize’ seems timely as it’s from the point-of-view of a once-loved now neglected toy. “I was born into a factory. Everyone I saw is more like me. Now I stand alone in this old house. I feel a human touch against my spine. They are squeezing me far too tight. Looking after praying at the sky. The saviour’s soon to be a raffle prize. I’m a freebie”.
It’s a unique subject to write about indeed. Furthermore, in the oddball department is the intriguing ‘Peanuts Grow Underground’, in which the two spoken characters are humankind and the planet, trying to negotiate some kind of truce within their current disastrous relationship. Neither really taking full responsibility or control. “We’re bound to find the time we need to fix your things and plant some trees”, says the human species, with the universe replying: “It’s too late for me. Just let me be.”
One of the best tracks on Small Mercies is the ornithology-metaphor ‘Andean Condor’. A really quirky and addictive new wave track that compares gender hierarchy between birds and humans. It begins with a commentary from a nature documentary: “For thousands of years. The condor soared along the Pacific Coast. And the cliffs, canyons, grasslands
And forests of the American West”. The Andean condor is a bird of prey in which the male is bigger than the female and much of the song is from the perspective of one of the birds observing from above the gender imbalance in humans. However, among the animal noises in the track – which are reminiscent of Jamiroquai’s ‘Nights Out In The Jungle’ – Pixx subverts the gender stereotype by giving herself an “unusual sense of control” by ordering her male companions to “Dance for me boy, give me a twirl. I want to get to know you”.
Small Mercies contains two types of moods: wacky electropop and angrier grunge Wolf Alice style moments (‘Bitch’, ‘Mary Magdalene’ – another Catholic criticism track- and ‘Hysterical’). Pixx is most enjoyable in the pop moments because her witty personality and British sense of humour really shines through. This humour also helps when the album falls flat of ideas. The final chapter fails to live up to the initial exciting concept of control and religion. It is also very crude in places, which although fits her brave and honest character profile, sometimes comes across as a bit cringe-worthy. Ultimately this makes Small Mercies a record of acquired taste, perhaps just like her catholic upbringing.
Small Mercies is out now on 4AD.