Anna Calvi is certainly that. Rather than the Brit School background that seems par for the course for any hotly tipped British female solo talent, Anna Calvi is instead the product of a rather more traditional music degree at Southampton Uni. Evidently, her obsession with the multi-textured work of early 20th century impressionist composers was allowed to flourish there, rather than be dampened by lessons on how best to impress dead-eyed X Factor judges.
As such, Calvi’s sumptuously gothic debut is shot through with more references than an encyclopaedia. Thrilling and chilling in equal measure, this self-titled collection of 10 songs is perhaps the first great record of 2011.
Instrumental opener ‘Rider To The Sea’ is an updated echo of the groove of ‘Riders On The Storm,’ yet stripped of Jim Morrison’s macho posturing and replaced with a virtuosity that’s neither indulgent nor dull.
Vocals kick in, somewhat ironically, on ‘No More Words’, where Calvi offers up a cut-glass English accent that’s a little sister to Sarah Nixey of defunct pop pervs Black Box Recorder. This is the prefect purr that nuzzles up against her own take on Ry Cooder’s slide guitar and Angelo Badalamenti’s atmospheric work for David Lynch across haunting tracks such as ‘Love Won’t Be Leaving’.
The upshot is a more cultured and studied take on Florence Welch’s baroque operatics. Calvi is a diva, no doubt, but instead of a speaker stack-humping, sparkly hotpant-wearing dervish, she treads a more reflective, refined path. Even considering such sophistication, she’s not afraid of an all-out hit, like the standout, chiming ‘Blackout’. Her glistening croon is placed centre stage in ‘The Devil’ as flamenco guitar trickles like a waterfall that’s been wired for sound. The Cure make their presence felt in the ‘80s jangle of ‘Suzanne And I’ and she goes seriously Siouxsie on the thunderous ‘Desire’.
It’d be hard not to draw parallels between Calvi and her co-producer Rob Ellis’s near constant collaborator of the last 20 years, PJ Harvey. Yet while both women ooze an elemental kind of passion, Calvi is unashamedly slicker, especially when compared to Harvey’s earlier, grungier work. Like Harvey though, we have a funny feeling that Calvi is in this for the long haul.