Anika Moa's celebrity takes the back seat on soul-baring new LP

by James Belfield / 19 October, 2018
Intensely personal: Anika Moa.

Intensely personal: Anika Moa.

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Anika Moa is relentlessly honest, relentlessly open, relentlessly unfiltered.

She’s tried to convince me otherwise; that she only ever shares “about 5% of what and who I am”. But come on, she’s hurtling through life shedding TV shows and albums that rely entirely on her brash, charismatic, hilarious personality.

Now, she has a second series of interview show Unleashed, a self-titled album and a new baby on the way, to be followed by an album of lullabies she’s “doing for selfish reasons – so I can help get it to sleep”.

It might seem impossible to own enough masks to be anything but herself, and, certainly, the new album doesn’t seem to hold back 95% of anything.

It reasserts an Anika Moa familiar to anyone who’s been listening to her intensely personal songs since 2001’s Thinking Room spawned Mother, or who has heard her memories of her late father on songs such as My Old Man and Running Through the Fire.

But where Anika Moa the album differs from Anika Moa the celebrity is in how fragile her lyrics show her to be.

At the heart of her new album – and placed at the end of the vinyl side one for maximum effect – is Heavy Head, a driving, grinding, screaming-guitar song about regret that opens with a repeated, “I hate myself”, and rolls out a crescendoing wish-list chorus of how she longs to get over her anger. Side two follows with Fade Away, in which she surrenders to her lover, “All I want is to taste your lips and to fade away.”

Her explanation: “There’s a deeper sense of personal vulnerability to this, because I’m more invested in this life now with my children and a partner. I can’t be a rock star all my life – and I literally can’t be a star with kids and a family and responsibilities.”

Family is clearly at the heart of the new songs. But despite her TV career resulting in a higher profile, she’s not worried about putting her loved ones in the public eye via her songwriting.

When she listens to music, she doesn’t care about the personas behind the songs, simply the way she feels. She thinks her new songs will speak for themselves.

Fortunately for her, the songs do stand on their own. Punchy production from American producer-drummer Brady Blade, stunning musicianship from session players, including guitarist Doug Pettibone and bassist Tony Hall, and eight days of New Orleans studio time have given Moa a brave and distinctly American sound.

The weeping steel guitar on Cry and Fire of Her Eyes gives them a country edge, and the outstanding I Don’t Wanna Break Your Heart Anymore sounds like Pat Benatar covering Fleetwood Mac. It’s all the result of Moa relinquishing control. “I thought, niks, drop it and go with it … it’s something I’d never have done myself, but I just kept going, and now I love it.”

It’s an album worthy of her love. She knows her writing is therapeutic, that her songs help her to “realise that it’s good to be alive”, and, with Anika Moa, she’s also found a sound that is the perfect foil for her unfiltered style.

Anika Moa plays album release shows at San Fran, Wellington, October 19; Galatos, Auckland, October 26; and Blue Smoke, Christchurch, October 27.

ANIKA MOA, Anika Moa (Universal)

★★★★

This article was first published in the October 13, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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