“You know, any time I feel like we’re closing to getting – um, figured out,” Ms Fish said to me when I interviewed her a couple of years ago, “when people think that this is exactly who you are, and this is what you’re gonna be, and it becomes an expectation - it makes me wanna change.” And listening to Faster, you know she wasn’t kidding.
Let’s start with the album cover, with its vivid picture of Fish lasciviously running her tongue up
|Samantha Fish, glossy sheen and all|
Pic by Kevin King
Picture this indeed, in readiness for the aural rollercoaster ride of Faster, as Fish and her producer/collaborator Martin Kierszenbaum smash styles together like a rock’n’roll Hadron Collider. Get ready, people, for crunching rock riffs, scrabbling post-punk guitar breaks, glistening keys, dance grooves, electro-pop bleeping – and more besides.
The title track kicks in with a buzzing, tough riff fit to rank with ‘Show Me’ from Wild Heart, but also introduces a thumping drum sound akin to the gated reverb variety that dominated the 80s. There’s a tantalising frisson to the yada-yada-yada lyric of the chorus: “I wanna ooh-ooh-ooh, You’re gonna ooh-ooh-ooh, That’s how I’ll make your heart go faster.” It's one of a number of songs about sexual attraction and - at the risk of sounding interleckshul - the power dynamics of relationships. A screaming guitar break will hit the bullseye for long-standing Fish fans, but the sonic gloss and sheen is something different – and she’s just getting started.
‘All Ice, No Whiskey’ has plenty of sexy swagger, and buried within it a groove that’s on familiar terms with Chic’s ‘Le Freak’ gets its little socks rocked off. Discordant keys sweep here and there, and the chorus is burnished by sleek, multi-tracked vocals, but what’s inescapable is a
|Not Samantha Fish, not Faster|
By this time old school blues-rock fans may be feeling seasick as they lurch between loving some of the gutsy guitar, and dropping their jaws at some of the other sounds flying around. And you ain’t heard anything yet.
‘Hypnotic’ slides seductively into earshot with a gasping vocal about “casting a spell that binds you”, over beeping like electronic raindrops. It comes over like something from an 80s Brit synth-pop outfit - until Mademoiselle Fish lets rip with a grungy guitar interlude that would give electronica twiddlers heart failure. On the other hand ‘Forever Together’ takes the “bomp-bomp-ba-bomp-bomp” vocal refrain of Cream’s ‘I Feel Free’ and bends it into the deformed riff for a punky pop song with the perkiest of catchy, where-have-I-heard-that-before choruses.
The opening verse of ‘Crowd Control’ reveals one of Fish’s few weaknesses, a tendency that’s cropped up in years gone by to waver a mite on notes at the bottom end of her register. What follows is a slice of dreamy pop that at first blush seems serviceable rather than outstanding, but as she relaxes into the vocal and adds some neat guitar fills it begins to sound like Samantha on more familiar soulful ground. ‘Imaginary War’ never really achieves escape velocity however, notwithstanding its fuzzy Morse Code backing and a typically spiky guitar solo.
But if that’s something of a lull in proceedings, ‘Loud’ gets things back on track. A mellow verse with soulful crooning á la Kill Or Be Kind’s ‘Love Letters’ explodes into a chorus that’s all slamming chords, swelling organ and forceful vocals. And then – steps back in amazement, supersonic Sam – a fella starts rapping! Will this be a bridge too far for some guitar rock
|"The future is this way!"|
And having dropped that stylistic bombshell, ‘Better Be Lonely’ switches tack with a repetitive, scratchy guitar line that’s taken up by Sam’s smoother vocal, over a cool, swinging bass groove and a thumping backbeat. It’s a simple enough tune, but it’s also an insistent, infernal earworm, topped off with a trademark wiry guitar solo. Then things get even wilder with the punk-pop guitar wig-out of ‘So-Called Lover’, which is more or less ‘Love Your Lies’ Mark II with a Blondie-esque stratospheric chorus and a buzzsaw guitar solo.
If you’re feeling breathless after all that, ‘Like A Classic’ cools things off, its wordless opening lines sliding into a swoonsome, coo-ing vocal, with a sweetly rising and falling chorus over squiggly background noises. And then ‘All The Words’ is a classic Fish slowie, easing in with Beatle-ish softly softly guitar notes, then leaning on sparse electric piano below Samantha’s reflective, emotional vocal about how “the caged bird never flies”, ultimately bringing down the curtain with some sweetly soaring singing.
“That’s part of being an artist,” the lady said to me back in 2019. “You’re going to do things that are either gonna incite happiness, or upset people.” Some people may be upset by Faster. Others may catch up with it. Me? I’m sold. Faster isn’t perfect, but it’s radio-ready dynamite in a similar way to the Black Keys’ El Camino. And Samantha Fish is a determined, ambitious young woman who’s carving out new possibilities for her music, and doing it with flair.