How to be weird without scaring people away. Life itself scares people with its weirdness, but Melbourne singer-songwriter Alex Lahey has vowed to fight weird with weird – “living in a world that wasn’t made for you makes you pretty strong and adaptive, and you find the fun in it,” says Alex – and with third album The Answer Is Always Yes, she manages to do so whilst remaining friendly and approachable to those who need her music.
Lahey has spent much of her time on this planet as an outsider looking in. A queer person, she has batted away emotion’s cabalism to display the benefits of being up-front and in-command, firing back at the workload an outsider must undertake, particularly with love in mind. With pep and tinkering guitar lines, she sings “give all you have, get nothing back / love never leaves you in the black” on You’ll Never Get Your Money Back, before epitomising her mission statement on They Wouldn’t Let Me In; punk barrages meet emotional retaliation – we either stare at our wounds in distress, or apply the bandage and keep fighting, and she’s doing the latter.
The heights of Lahey’s emotive display scrape mountaintops. Even with hints of defeatism, she operates with ninetieth-minute bursts of fire and satire over the imploding pinnacle of the title track. Sassily, she comes close to evoking the verbal middle-fingers of Shania Twain’s That Don’t Impress Me Much on Good Time, enforced by handclaps. Permanent is the apex; Alex recites “I’m glad the neighbours are moving because I can’t listen to him play no more / it’s just the same three fucking chords” with minimal chords of her own, but they’re undeterminable, complementing her introspection, dropping clear images into the ambiguity of her emotional response.
Permanent also contains a big blowout crescendo, not regaining composure but increasing composure like an old rock anthem. This is, in part, where Alex’s approachability stems from; a lot of her compositional ideas rejuvenate and compare to a lot of rock’s – mostly alternative – acclaimed past. General human nature has averted from the alternative rock zeitgeist; if it hadn’t, if societal taste were how it once was, The Answer Is Always Yes would take indefinite residence on decadal top ten lists.
She writes her own Nirvana and Pixies songs; an invigorating thrust of simple chords emerges on Congratulations, comparable to Wave of Mutilation, whilst keeping Alex’s relatability in focus, moving on from exes, rallying “I’m doing just fine without you”. Airing a supercharged guitar riff, On the Way Down models itself on any year from the 2000s whilst remaining lovingly Pixies-ish, boasting an emotionally-gruelling mini climax.
The Sky Is Melting re-envisions Blink-182’s I Miss You, its famed guitar lines now appearing as string brushes, its drums intact. But Lahey refocuses, creating realer, literal depictions of toll-taking experiences with drugs, sewn via her most heartfelt vocals. Still blinking, Makes Me Sick is like if Dammit were a Cranberries song, echoing its youthful perspective of romance.
Rearranging the changing face of rock music – independent or otherwise – is as much Alex Lahey’s calling as moulding her sense of exile into triumph and wisdom. The songs of The Answer Is Always Yes are overt and poetic, fending off hurdles with the purest resonance, whilst leaping over them. Can Alex Lahey guide us when we need her to? The answer is always…well, you know…