The debut album from UK indie pop artist Hannah Rogers, aka Pixx, is forlorn, agitated, and at times infectious. She sings critically of her doubt and discontent with our times.
“The great vice of our age,” W.H. Auden lamented in a letter to his friend Theodore Spencer after the publication of his final book-length poem, The Age of Anxiety, “is that we are all not only ‘actors’ but know that we are. It is only at moments, in spite of ourselves, and when we least expect it that our real feelings break through.” Auden felt we had been paralyzed by our own self-awareness—that the more we reflected on our place in the world, the more entrenched in it we became. For Auden, the examined life only made it harder to live.
The Age of Anxiety was published in 1947, and it has been continually reimagined. The poem was adapted by Leonard Bernstein as the Symphony No. 2 for piano and orchestra in 1949, by Jerome Robbins as a ballet (set to Bernstein’s music) in 1950, by the Living Theater Studio in New York as a play in 1954, and again by students at Princeton in 1960. And now it arrives as an album by UK indie pop artist Pixx—sort of. Surrey-born Hannah Rogers, 21 years old and a new signee to 4AD, found her debut album’s suggestive title scrawled in a notebook handed down by her brother. This record is not an adaptation of the poem so much as it was inspired by that phrase’s enduring intrigue.
Still, Pixx’s Anxiety and Auden’s share much in common. Both seem forlorn, agitated, sick with ennui. Both bristle at the anguish and malaise of the age. “Toes,” an erratic, hazy synth-pop number reminiscent of a pre-Visions Grimes, lambasts the demands of a life broadcast on-screen for likes and follows: “The longest hair/The bluest eyes/The whitest teeth/The fakest smile,” Rogers recites flatly, before concluding with a simple droll order: “Let’s go out/Let’s go outside.” Elsewhere she addresses the tension between vanity and social consciousness—both on the rise. “Everyone is in a rush to have some fun but times are tough,” she sings on the buoyant “Waterslides.” “There must be something here for me/I’m terrified by what I see.”
At times this disaffection feels too broad, even adolescent. Lead single “I Bow Down” is monotonous and overproduced, leaden with a repetitive vocal melody and scuzzy, muddled electric guitar; its lyrics muse vaguely on Auden’s “age of anxiety,” but amount to little more than nondescript platitudes (“to put a weight on it/would be to mold the answer/deceivingly”). “Everything is Weird in America,” the album’s most straightforward bid for pop triumph, is as trite as its title suggests. “But be aware it’s not all it seems/A vision built on movie screens,” Rogers intones. “Hear me, hear me cry out/Everything is weird in America.” That the latter refrain proves so infectious makes the hollow sentiment all the harder to shake.
Pixx is at her sharpest when her doubt and discontent are animated by something more acute. In the case of “Romance,” the album’s best track by far, it’s resentment, rancor, and rage—familiar emotions to pop singers the world over. “You don’t care as long as you leave in a pair,” Rogers snarls, positively vicious, as waves of synth boil around her. “You’ll be fine as long as you keep up the flair.” The similarly harsh “The Girls” is vitalized by its own insecurity. It suffers from one of Rogers’s most unfortunate rhymes—“I hope they read about the boys/Who are no good, treat them like toys”—but its rich vein of sorrow is tapped to great effect. “I wish that I could dance like the rest of the girls,” Rogers croons, movingly. It’s the statement of an artist who, in Auden’s phrase, not only feels but is critically conscious of her emotions.