Review: Wallis Bird’s ‘Hands’ is a Deeply Personal Album with Universal Themes

Wallis Bird

The Breakdown

Wallis Bird's 'Hands' is a deeply personal album with universal themes of love, understanding and compassion.
Virgin/Mount Silver 8.5

Wallis Bird has just released her 7th album ‘Hands’ out via Virgin Records/Mount Silver Records.

Since 2007, Bird has released six albums and earned numerous awards and accolades along the way, including two Meteor Awards, Ireland’s annual music prize, a prestigious 2017 German “Musikautorenpreis” (Music Author Prize) and two nominations for the Choice Music Prize, Ireland’s equivalent to Britain’s Mercury Prize. Bird has also toured frenetically racking up over a thousand shows during the past decade.

In 2019, she began a sabbatical and decided to quit alcohol. A visit to Phillip Milner’s (producer / musician, Hundreds) house to make some music resulted in her world opening up “like an orchid” and ‘Hands’ was recorded in fifty weeks, primarily in Milner’s farmhouse studio in Wendland, Bird’s studio in Berlin and Marcus Wuest’s in Sandhausen.

The cover of the album, which depicts a hand is deeply personal. When she was eighteen months old, Bird fell under a lawnmower and her fingers were cut off. Surgeons managed to reconnect four of her fingers, but one was lost. As a result Bird had to relearn how to hold things and had to play the guitar differently. Bird has said that the alternative name for the album is ‘Nine and a Half Songs for Nine and a Half Fingers’.

“‘Hands’ for me is a symbol of humanity, connection and time. Humanity because, as babies, a first sign of our knowledge of existence is through our connection when we grip another human’s finger. If we don’t have hands, are we lesser humans? No. Connection, because hands represent tactility and expression, a physical language that links our imagination and our reality with each other’s. Finally, time, because some of the first examples of civilisations were hand paintings on cave walls, some of those hands missing fingers, celebrating their story of existence.”

Wallis Bird

Album opener ‘Go’ is a harbinger of the theme of the songs that follow on ‘Hands’ – it’s about Bird’s personal commitment to change and progress, in the hope that this will be mirrored by society in general “I’ll never move on if I don’t go now / I’ll never move on if I stay in the present / I’ll never do what I dreamed about” she sings.

‘What’s Wrong With Changing’ features tribal rhythms and is reminiscent of Janelle Monae’s ‘Hell You Talmbout‘. In the song, Bird contrasts reformist changes that have occurred in Ireland in recent years, with the atmosphere when she visited London back when David Cameron was Prime Minister.

‘I Lose Myself Completely’ is pure 80s synth pop, you half expect A-ha to make an appearance. Despite the poppy music, the song covers the serious issue of Bird’s battle with excessive alcohol use. The accompanying video is a mind-blowing montage of images from Renaissance paintings to scenes from the Kama Sutra superimposed with shattered vision of Bird singing. The video was created by animator Fergal Brennan and the featured portraits were all painted by female artists.

After the two preceding songs, which are delivered at breakneck speed, ‘The Power of Word’ sees Bird in more reflective mode with a powerful ballad about the importance of trust in a relationship. With ‘F.K.K (No Pants Dance)’ Bird switches back to 80s pop. The song was written after she witnessed neighbours celebrating the end of the Covid lockdowns.

The last song on the album, ‘Pretty Lies’ features swirling harmonisation and syncopated beats – it wouldn’t sound out of place on a St. Vincent album. It’s an optimistic and hopeful resolution to an album that spans multiple genres.

Stream or buy ‘Hands’ HERE.

“Up until recently, I simply treated my hand as something additional, not primary to my story. But, during this pandemic, when everything in my usual life was scattered, I found myself wondering ‘Who am I? What am I? What story do I leave behind?’ My story had been one of stubborn ‘I can do it just as good as anyone’, but this new chapter in my life has been about letting go of over-controlling, handing things over to others, being comfortable with my surroundings and colleagues, and knowing I’m understood. Right now, I’m a passenger, a guest in my life, because the album has been so collaborative and so out-of-bodily written, almost hypnotically. And I love it!”

Wallis Bird
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