Rina Sawayama - Hold the Girl review: An enjoyably unpredictable world

 (Thurstan Redding)
(Thurstan Redding)

As a Westernised child with an up and down relationship with Asian parents, of course Japanese-British star Rina Sawayama has said she is a fan of the recent film Everything Everywhere All at Once. That movie’s title is also a fitting description of Sawayama’s proudly maximalist pop music, which appears to smoosh together every genre of the 2000s, from R&B to nu-metal to computer game music, with a surprise around every corner.

It shouldn’t work. The sounds of Destiny’s Child and Limp Bizkit may once have sat next to each other in the charts, but surely not on the same album. But the boldness with which she performs her handbrake turns earned a place for her 2020 debut album, Sawayama, on many critics’ end of year favourites lists. It caused the organisers of the BRIT Awards and Mercury Prize to change their eligibility rules for her, as she wasn’t going to be an option for British prizes despite living here since the age of five. It also led to collaborations with Lady Gaga, Elton John and Charli XCX, and even an acting role alongside Keanu Reeves in the upcoming fourth installment of the John Wick franchise.

It feels like she might have calmed down a little on the opening song on this second album, Minor Feelings. “All my life I’ve felt out of place,” she croons over a minimal backdrop. After that, though, she’s all over the shop once again. The title track combines her grandiose singing style with skipping garage beats and cut-up vocal samples. This Hell is a camp, overblown pure pop number on which she empathises with some misunderstood female superstars: “F*** what they did to Britney, to Lady Di and Whitney,” she sings, a slogan that has already found its way onto a tank top in her merch store.

Other moments are more serious. Your Age mixes country banjo and an electro-rock chorus and appears to be an angry reappraisal of a past relationship. Frankenstein is about another unhealthy coupling and races along on a menacing bassline towards a punk finale. But it is difficult to feel sad for her when the music is so excessive and chaotic. Hurricanes could be an Avril Lavigne pop-rock anthem. Holy (Till You Let Me Go) is extravagant Eurodance. By the time Phantom unveils its closing squealy guitar solo, you’ll either have thrown your speakers out a window in protest at the lack of tastefulness on display, or rolled over and given in to this enjoyably unpredictable world.

(Dirty Hit)