When Marika Hackman released “Boyfriend” earlier this year, she made a statement. In a four-minute long track, she sent the world a message: I’m back, I’m better and bolder than ever, and I’ve changed. Not long after the release of the song, the single was flooded with praise, and the general curiosity of where her new sound and direction was taking her grew by the minute. Come June 2nd and Marika Hackman’s second album, I’m Not Your Man, is released (via AMF/Sub Pop), confirming that indeed, she’s changed and she’s better than ever.
While it can be easily called a record whose main message is female empowerment – something that is emphasized by the fact that Hackman had London band The Big Moon as her backing band on the album, creating a female-dominated space in the studio and record – I’m Not Your Man goes beyond to show us Hackman taking full control over her music and not being afraid anymore. The record is empowering for it is physical evidence of the beauty of letting go of reservations and expectations and just doing what you feel like doing for once. In 15 songs, Hackman navigates the dynamics of queer relationships, sex, attraction, friendship, and social media, to mention a few. In other words, I’m Not Your Man is your ticket into Marika Hackman’s life and mind – uncensored, honest, sarcastic, emotional, gripping, and beautiful.
The album kicks off with lead single “Boyfriend”, that is a burst of energy and sass and female empowerment. Seen in the context of the whole album, “Boyfriend” is the first step of what may develop into a relationship, it represents the attraction and thrill of finding someone new. It’ is followed by “Good Intentions”, one of the standout tracks in the album. The distorted guitar that starts the track comes as an unexpected shake to the listener, just when you think you’ve understood what the new Marika Hackman sounds like, she surprises you. It continues the high energy streak started by “Boyfriend”, and The Big Moon’s presence on the track makes it come to life even more with memorable percussion and incredibly impactful backing vocals, supporting Hackman while she sings clever and direct lines like “I can sense your bullshit from my bedroom” and “Don’t fill me up, I really like my outline”.
Two songs that make up one of the best moments of the album are “Violet” and “Cigarette”. “Violet” is probably the most surprising song on I’m Not Your Man, not because of its sonic quality, but because of how explicitly it talks about sex – it has a candour to it that one would never have expected knowing Hackman’s previous works, but it’s this openness that makes the track remarkable. A sultry, guitar-led melody and Hackman’s strong and smokey voice make “Violet” a definite favourite. After sex, comes the heartbreak – or, in this case, after “Violet” comes “Cigarette”. “Cigarette” is one of the songs that hints at Hackman’s past tracks the most, featuring only her and an acoustic guitar. It is a raw, emotional and extremely visual exploration of a relationship that is slowly crumbling apart, and lyrics like “You tried to hold my tongue/ But I, I yanked it from your grip/Bathed it in petroleum/ Lit a cigarette and gave it a kiss” show Hackman’s ability in making one small moment of her day become worthy of a song. It is more metaphorical than other tracks on the album, again resembling, if ever so slightly, her previous sound. “Cigarette” is reflective and calm, a song that is meant to be listened to during the orange sunset of a tumultuous day, while “Violet” is slow but strong and playful, and both of these songs blend together so effortlessly it is hard not to think of them as two parts of one whole.
“So Long” and “Eastbound Train” both deal with the subject of infidelity in very different manners. “So Long” is about confronting a cheating partner, and there is a mixture of confidence and hurt when Hackman sings “Do you prefer her bed?/ Would you like to return to it soon?/ Does she stroke your head?/ Does she wear a fancy perfume?”. The song’s bass line is prominent and remarkable, somehow standing out even in the chorus where backing vocals and the guitars are more in evidence than before. The Big Moon’s backing vocals complement the song perfectly towards the end, giving it a haunting atmosphere. “Eastbound Train” is about accepting and moving on from infidelity, and sounds slightly more joyous than the previous song. Hackman indicates her and her partner are parting ways, “So I’ll go left and you stay right”, and at times she admits to having moments where she misses her past relationship, but eventually finishes the song with her “head held high”.
“Blahblahblah” and “I’d Rather Be With Them”, found on the album’s final stretch, are a darker spin on what we’ve heard so far. “Blahblahblah” is a poignant reflection of social media’s effects on today’s society. It starts with a rather unassuming, seemingly joyful riff, until Hackman’s layered voice starts the song with “Ghost town/ Walk among the zombies”, at times dragging itself on as a reflection of how social media can damage our perception and brains and slow us down – she refers to us all as “brain dead”. “I’d Rather Be With Them” is the sad post-mortem of a relationship that is just about to come to an end. It is visceral and graphic, with lyrics like “Make me throw up” and “It’s all coming out now, black, brown, wine, and bile”. But it’s in lyrics like these that you see how meaningful and true this relationship was, so much so that it’s end renders a physical reaction. “I’d Rather Be With Them” ends the relationship that is described in the album on a mellow and introspective note, very different to where it began, and what’s beautiful is that in the journey from “Boyfriend” to “I’d Rather Be With Them” you’ve seen most, if not all, sides of Marika Hackman. She manages to encapsulate both personal and universal themes on a number of different tracks, and crafts an album that takes you in different directions but remains in the same universe.
Every minute of I’m Not Your Man feels like a breath of fresh air, a sigh of relief, a joyous laugh. Hackman has never been in her element as much as she is on this album, and this isn’t only seen just in her change in style but rather in the small things, like incorporating Celia Archer’s laughter at the start of lead single “Boyfriend”, or a quiet count up to four in the middle of “Gina’s World”. Hackman created more than an album that tells a story, I’m Not Your Man is a vivid experience and a trip into her mind, in which she leads you happily, showing you all corners she’d kept hidden up until now. If Hackman was already a star before, with I’m Not Your Man she shines even brighter, showing us skill, powerful storytelling, a strong vision and sense of artistic direction, talent, but most of all, just being one hundred percent herself for the first time.
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cover © Steve Gullick