Julia Jacklin, Crushing, album review: A masterclass in narrative songwriting

“Do you still have that photograph?/ Would you use it to hurt me?” asks Australian indie rocker Julia Jacklin, against the menacing throb of “Body”. The tension is stormy: imagine a mid-period Fleetwood Mac song, covered by Cat Power. It’s a masterclass in narrative songwriting.

“The police met the plane/ They let you finish your meal,” sings the 28-year-old. “Just a boy who could not get through a domestic flight/ Without lighting up in the restroom/ Got caught/ A cloud of smoke, thumb still on the light/ You looked so proud/ Couldn’t wait to call a friend.”

The slow, lo-fi treble snap of the snare and thrum of bass stay as steady as the drone of aviation. Without a shift in the pace or confidential tone of her vocal, the singer decides to leave this guy. Then, in a twist, she recalls the moment: “When you took my camera/ Turned to me, twenty-three/ Naked on your bed/ Looking straight at you … Well, I guess it’s just my life/ And it’s just my body.” With repetition, the phrase circles and finds release.  ​

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For my money, “Body” is the best thing on Crushing, a terrifically complicated breakup record that’s still got a hangar full of delights readied for takeoff. Those who fell for Jacklin’s 2016 excellent debut, Don’t Let the Kids Win, will find a continuity of alternative attitude and vintage influences. The video for new song “Pressure To Party” – Jacklin’s sneeringly ecstatic “three-minute scream” about what people expected of her after her relationship ended – is even shot in the same retro-fitted house as her first video, for “Pool Party”.

But there’s a deeper sense of personal connection to anchor Jacklin’s lyrical and melodic smarts. That snare drum keeps a relentless, nerve-snapping pulse throughout, with Jacklin sounding more confident in her contradictions: at once yearning to comfort a lover she’s dumped and then, on “Head Alone”, declaring: “I don’t wanna be touched all the time/ I raised my body up to be mine.” The rather glorious video for this one finds Jacklin running through the desolate streets of suburbia in a dress that looks like it’s been made out of 1980s curtain material for a sixth-form production of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.   

“Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” nails a depth of intimacy (“Hope that your mother stays friends with mine”) while acknowledging boredom (“Every gift you buy me, I know what’s inside/ What do I do now?/ There’s nothing left to find”).

“Comfort” is a melancholy strum that sees Jacklin lamenting: “You can’t be the one to hold him/ when you were the one who left.” But “Good Guy” finds Jacklin playing with the chord progression of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” as she tells a different lover that lying to her for one night doesn’t mean he isn’t a decent human – so long as they both know the truth. It’s a lovely subversion. I’ve read too many rock ’n’ roll biographies and heard too many romantic classics from men of the Dylan generation to not wonder how many different women they’ve lulled onto big brass hotel beds muttering, “this one’s about you, honey”. It’s great to hear a woman flip the shtick.

Ah. Shucks. Grunge-rinsed, feminist-flipped, upcycled Fifties guitar an’ all: Crushing is a triumph.

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