Sophie Hunger has a cosmopolitan background – she grew up in three different countries and writes songs in three different languages – and this seems to have set her problems as a creative artist. Her first two albums, ‘Sketches on Sea’ (2007) and ‘Monday’s Ghost’ (2008), consisted of conventional acoustic folk – sweetly pastoral, technically proficient, but lacking in a strong point of view. Then came her difficult third album, ‘1983’ (2010). The title, her year of birth, suggested that she has pressed the reset button and gone back to step one, and the result sounded like an identity crisis happening, introspective, confessional, with an ambience that made you think of asylums in ’50s B-movies, all padded cells and chilly tiles. For all that, though, she was no closer to finding herself – the standout track, “Les vents nous portera”, a beautiful French-language ballad backed with bluesy guitar, channels ‘La chanson de Prévert’-era Serge Gainsbourg. So the question is: does ‘The Danger of Light‘, her fourth album, finally cast some light on her real musical persona?
The answer, unfortunately, is no. But at least it shows Hunger having fun with what seems to have become a career-long quest. The album opener, ‘Rererevolution’, is a breathlessly propulsive prog rock pastiche, complete with complex time changes, which then takes on mariachi elements and morphs into what might be music for a shootout in a spaghetti Western. Hunger’s throaty chanting (“Where is my… revolution?”) recalls Grace Slick of The Jefferson Airplane, as does the singing on the album’s other prog rock moment, the stompy protest song ‘Heharun’.
As well as the obvious jazz influences, you can hear a touch of Bjork in ‘Perpetrator’, a deliciously smoky nightclub number. Underpinned by a doomy trombone riff and a noirish hook on upright base, it’s a track that showcases Hunger’s sterling backing band – something it has in common with ‘LikeLikeLike’, the lightest cut on the album, a charmingly tomboyish rockabilly foot-stomper with throwaway lyrics.
‘LikeLikeLike’ apart, ‘The Danger of Light’ sees Hunger wrestling with weighty topics – immigration (in ‘The Fallen’), faith, dogma and, of course, identity. These culminate in two powerful, big-boned ballads. ‘How much do I share? / How much do I really care?’ she demands self-accusingly over the yearning electro-pop of ‘Can You See Me?’. And ‘don’t break your shoulders for nothing’ she pleads on ‘Souldier’, a song of rolling piano chords and ethereal backing harmonies, addressed to some Christ-like, self-sacrificing figure. Maybe she overdoes the bleeding heart a bit – or a lot even – but these two tracks have an anthemic quality beyond anything she’s recorded before. And if their tortured musings do happen to get you down, then the serene and hymn-like ‘Z’Leid Vor Freiheitstatue’ will flood you with a light that is healing rather than dangerous.
Review by: Julian White
The Danger of Light is released on Two Gentlemen. Order it here.