A friend and I were recently bemoaning the lack of political thought, or any kind of thought, in pop music today. It might be because we’ve reached the age where we start looking for the ‘good old days’, or it might be because, well, it’s kind of true. If you look back through musical history, you see plenty of evidence for a guitar, a keyboard and a voice being wielded to say something. Something important. From the Civil Rights songs, the poetic protest of the blues, to big hits criticising Thatcherite politics to satirical comments on the rich-poor divide. And then, of course, we had riot grrl and cool edgy women in pop claiming their feminism and slamming misogyny in popular culture.
Recently it feels that there just hasn’t been that much of that. Sure, there’s an old Etonian singing about how Thatcher fucked the kids. And there’s Lily Allen trying to critique music industry sexism whilst simultaneously using all the tropes of that sexism in her video. My two great hopes for some kind of statement, MIA and Lady Gaga, kind of messed it up with their Assange alliance.
Then, bam. At the end of 2013 something changed. Beyonce put Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche in a furious feminist anthem on her new record. And Gaptooth released her first album, Connections and Departures.
I’ve known Hannah, the woman behind Gaptooth, since the mid 2000s when I moved into her house. We organised Ladyfest Bristol 2007 together and have been friends ever since. And so it is with great pleasure and excitement that I take this opportunity to review her album.
The album opens with the electrifying Ladykillers, a catchy, angry piece of pop that wears its feminist politics on its sleeve. The music crashes in, and Gaptooth’s sweet voice slices through, telling us ‘it’s a man’s world, it’s a man’s business’. From there she explores the side-lining of women in left-wing politics, violence against women, (‘as he’s pinned you to the bed and you’re becoming the 1 in 3, the right to vote did not set you free’), with sly references to ‘being de Beauvoir to your Sartre’. And then the chorus swoops in, her voice soaring over the guitars that she’s ‘tired of settling for less’.
The song is angry. It is angry about ladykillers – in every sense of the word. But it’s also a brilliant pop song with a chorus that you cannot get out your head and a beat you can’t help but dance to. It's so refreshing to hear some feminist anger in pop music again. It's so exciting to hear anger and passion and pissed off-ness at the horrors women face in a song you can sing along to and dance to. We need music and popular culture to give us pleasure, but we also want it to talk about what is happening, to protest and to criticise.
It’s no easy feat to write a song that makes you want to think and dance, but Gaptooth pulls it off with panache.
Ladykillers sets the tone for the rest of the album, a mix of synth pop, dancing beats, big guitars, sweet vocals and the personal is political lyrics. There is the touching and painful duet with Oli Trademark, Enduring Freedom. It’s a soaring dance record with a euphoric beat that belies the personal heart of the lyrics. Then you have the witty two fingers to a break-up, Plans and Friends and Records, where Gaptooth celebrates a creative future and waves goodbye to the past with what is perhaps my favourite lyric in the world ever, ‘and when I said I had no protection, that wasn’t what I meant.’ The song goes on to re-write the marriage vows in an unabashed dig at patriarchy.
Baggage is another stand out track, a little more understated than Ladykillers and Enduring Freedom, with quirky synths and an introspective exploration of being young and feeling alone with the line ‘when the glasses are all empty and the ashtrays are all full, we still are stuck with ourselves’. The song ends with staccato keys that jerk and surprise.
These Machines takes a slightly different tone, with a driving bass and rockier way in, with angrier shouty lyrics that takes on capitalism and corporations, and the distractions offered to us by politicians: ‘while you were worried about immigration…we send them our carpet bombs for free’.
Then there’s the heart-breaking ‘Same ghost every night’. The synths take on a darker note, they’re stripped back. It’s a beautiful if almost unbearably painful song about loss that can’t be forgotten once heard. As the song moves forward, the haunting soundscape builds up, becoming more and more intense, with the promise that ‘one day this will be alright’, before bringing you back down again.
It's followed by Badly Planned Recovery which has got hit written all over it as Gaptooth promises that she's 'not the wreck you've seen today'. This track should definitely be released as a single. The last track on the album, Take it Down, is a very pared back vocal and guitar number, with Gaptooth singing over simple guitar chords about liberte, egalite and fraternite, and socialist politics ('you won't find reality in reality TV'). The keyboard comes in but the song remains delightfully simple, letting Gaptooth's voice take priority as she tells her story.
Each song is unique and individual, but they are all unmistakeably Gaptooth. They are political, personal, feminist, human, angry, witty and catchy. Connections and Departures is a collection of fantastic pop songs that make you want to dance and dance, before lifting up your placard and demanding change. Could this be a new dawn of politically minded pop? I hope so!