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Album Review : Isabella Manfredi, 'izzi'


izzi (Universal)

YES, GO HARD OR GO HOME IS A STUPID EXPRESSION. But it’s not without a point: if you commit to something don’t be half-arsed about it because then you’re just wasting your – and, often enough, our – time.

When reviewing Girlhood, 2018’s second and final album by The Preatures, who split when Isabella Manfredi left for the solo career that finds its full expression here, it seemed to me that the band had a sense of what they wanted – an un-ironic surrender to the sonic and dramatic touchstones of the 1980s and early ‘90s – but hesitated just when a wholesale immersion beckoned.

Manfredi does not make the same mistake here.

izzi is a record steeped in the aesthetics of Madonna, Texas and TLC, of Arena, Price and Matthews, and just as crucially, of songwriters and producers like Diane Warren and Babyface, Greg Ladanyi and Dallas Austin.

The delicate but still grand sweep of Playing True, which closes the album on an upswing of wish fulfilment; the close quarters balladry of Birthday Wish with its politely swirling saxophone and smooth fretless bass; the synth-bumped, more-swaying-not-grinding, moon-lit Seasons Change; and the glossy background/intimate foreground statement, shuffling rhythm and affirming rap (by Pricie) of Naïve, concede nothing to the 21st century.

That’s not just in individual sounds but in the way those sounds are wrapped up in a kind of warm embrace that doesn’t demand you pay attention, just broadens the space so you can find a comforting spot somewhere. Tempos are for smooth riding, not for dislocation, drums are for encouraging along rather than hurrying, and voices don’t intrude, they engage.

Once this would have been called FM pop, the counterweight to more approved, assertive rock: dismissed by tastemakers and assumed to be relevant only for daytime (for which you can read, female) listeners. But the sales then, and the lingering echoes of those songs and sounds in the collective memory now, suggest it had much greater impact.

Knowing this, when Manfredi and producers Tony Buchen and Jonathan Wilson dive in, they are prepared to dive deep. The reflective pool of Sleepwalking practically glistens on the surface like the voices of Manfredi and Emma Louise are being beamed down as a kind of moonglow Nicks and McVie, and Jealousy works its synth bass and high vocals as the twin poles of a nightclub where everyone who was seeking, happily has now found Susan.

Even Living In The Wind, whose essential character is the musical equivalent of second best friend in a rom-com (nice, graspable, but never memorable) takes its cruise mode near the edge of a Cadillac with a deadhead sticker.

Meanwhile, Manfredi’s lyrics explore some timeless issues of identity signalling (“I wanna come home/Get off my phone/Wanna be a rockstar, drive a big car”) meeting identify failures (“I never wanted a hero or rockstar/Mama always said don’t ever fall in love/With the boys at the back of the bar”); of running towards regret (“I’ve been in love with someone who doesn’t even care I’m coming home to him/On tonight’s flight, I won’t be thinking of him”) and regret still not being enough (“Look at you, on your own again in Hollywood/Rented a room to write songs about him”); of good hard intentions (“This time I’ll make you really beg for it/Get down on your knees for forgiveness”) and recognition in a hard landing (“Trusted in our destiny/Forgot about mine”).

If her words sound far less certain than her sonic choices, Manfredi’s progression is nonetheless clear: edging her way to some point of certainty and freedom of purpose that doesn’t depend on what he, they, you or I think of her decisions. Musically, she may already be there, having gone home and gone hard.


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