If you are an ARXX devotee – and why, pray tell, would anyone not be – you will recognise the contents of Ride Or Die as more-or-less the duo’s current live set, albeit not necessarily in this order. Most of its 11 songs worked up and worked on since lockdown, with the only holdovers from Hanni and Clara’s pre-Covid repertoire being the torrid, regular set closer ‘Iron Lung’ and a massively reworked ‘Stuck On You’ that loses the rugged groove of the earlier version in a sea of ethereal gentleness. Collectively the other 9 offerings show the enormous strides that Hanni has made as a writer in the past three years. Not that there was even one thing wrong with earlier ARXX classics like ‘Masters Of Device’, ‘Moments At A Time‘ or the previous arrangement of ‘Stuck’ – and fortunately their earlier repertoire is preserved on previously-released CD and vinyl to prove that. However the pop sensibilities that always bubbled just below the surface in their music have fully blossomed as they have grown as a group, and Ride Or Die is both pure pop for now people and pure now for pop people – no more, no less.
The album has been a long time coming, and has been preceded by several singles – most recently, the gorgeous ‘God Knows’ – that I’m hoping everyone who reads this will have watched on YouTube at least once. Those who have will not need me to extol the virtues of the melancholic rocker ‘Call Me Crazy’ – here in a version that features vocal assistance on the ‘Hey’s from their Irish chums Pillow Queens – or the funk fuelled ‘Deep’ with its memorable underwater video. And I truly feel sorry for anyone who has not yet made the acquaintance of ‘Not Alone (But Not With You)’, a searing short sharp stab of classic radio friendliness that might just be one of the greatest singles of the 21st century so far. It says much for the confidence that Hanni and Clara have in their repertoire that they can afford to hide this gem as track 3 of 11 that pass by far too quickly but that make you want to hit the replay button as soon as it’s over without skipping any tracks.
A lot of work has gone into Ride Or Die and those who are used to ARXX’s onstage raw, edgy unbridled power might be taken aback slightly by the bigger and frequently warmer sound that studio production has brought to the party. But songs like the relatively underexposed ‘Never Want To Go Back’ really benefit from a vast wall of sound production – and if you want to hear the more straightforward, unvarnished versions of these songs, the duo are touring right now, and will doubtless be bringing them to a town near you between now and June. And the production never overwhelms the fantastic songs and consummate performances, which is how it should be. Having a skilled producer/engineer (and mixer!) like Steve Ansell at the controls has brought things to the forefront that a live show cannot fully explore, and found new elements to Hanni’s lead and Clara’s backing vocals that their coruscating gigs might not. One minute they sound like the best 60s girl group you’ve never heard, the next they sound like a mash up of Heart and Black Sabbath. But most of all – and on every track – they sound like ARXX.
I’m not going to be tempted to recommend one single track from this album. I’m going to recommend all of them. Ride Or Die is one of the most important albums you’ll hear or have the opportunity to buy this year – a mighty juggernaut of a record that will flatten anyone and anything that gets in its way. It is already on its way to ensuring that ARXX are ready to move up to bigger venues and a bigger fan base. Good on them, they have worked hard for what is undoubtedly coming to them now. I really couldn’t be happier to recommend a debut full length LP that any artist in any genre of music could and would be proud to call their own.
LOUD WOMEN and I have been in ARXX’s corner from a very early stage in their career, and Hanni Pidduck and Clara Townsend have played some of the best LW shows ever. And now they are offering up an album that confirms everything we’ve always known was true about ARXX – that is, they are the natural successors to, and as good as, any of the great bands in whose shadows they have stood on the way to reaching the point they have now arrived at, from Fanny to The Pandoras to Bikini Kill and beyond.
I’ve thrown away several attempts at a review of this sublime album that have started out in a constructive manner, only to end up in a heap of fawning superlatives before the end of the first paragraph. Not that superlatives are undeserved where ARXX, or this mind-blowingly good new long player, are concerned. I love it as much as I love them.
Ride Or Die is out now on Submarine Cat Records. ARXX are on tour from this week and throughout the Summer – dates below.