If 2019’s exceptional Woman represented an ambitious state of the world address, Hands – also known as Nine and a Half Songs For Nine and a Half Fingers – finds Wallis Bird turning the spotlight onto herself, raising issues that are sometimes far harder to confront, only to emerge optimistic and whole. Among these are issues of trust, alcohol abuse, stagnation, self-censorship and self-improvement, some addressed through personal recollections of crucial moments accumulated over the last two years. Each, however, is delivered by a voice uncommonly blessed with joy, ingenuity and empathy.
Where its predecessor was bathed in soul music, Hands adapts sounds from Birds’s early childhood. Barring the intimately confessional ‘I’ll Never Hide My Love Away’, its songs are flushed with bright colours, many familiar from the 1980s and ‘90s. Its bookends are ‘Go’, whose smooth R&B inflections provide a neat bridge from the album’s forerunner, and ‘Pretty Lies’, its euphoric conclusion powered by forty chunky chord progressions. In-between, Hands rarely pauses.
The jubilant ‘What’s Wrong With Changing’ appropriates the rhythmic discipline of Janet Jackson’s Control, Rhythm Nation 1814 and janet., and ‘I Lose Myself Completely’ revels in Trevor Horn’s work, while the grinning ‘No Pants Dance’, written after witnessing neighbours celebrating lockdown’s end, would have delighted Prince, and ‘Dreamwriting’ – “a reminder to myself of one of my most favourite memories in recent years” – is full of warmth, lyrically and musically. ‘Aquarius’ dreamy chord changes and unexpected pedal steel, meanwhile, help unleash some of the prettiest instrumental sections 2022’s likely to enjoy, and there are pensive moments, too, not least ‘The Dive’, which describes a gesture Bird treasures as “one of the most brave and romantic memories I own” and which wields a muted trumpet and Mediterranean guitars while its melody skips along dreamily as though through a summer meadow. If the sonic palette is different, then, Hands is still defiantly, happily Wallis Bird.
2. What’s Wrong With Changing?
3. I Lose Myself Completely
4. The Power of a Word
6. F.K.K. (No Pants Dance)
8. I’ll Never Hide My Love Away
9. The Dive
10. Pretty Lies