When Alex Lahey first attracted attention in 2016, she was often likened to Courtney Barnett. The comparison was obvious — and, like most obvious things, superficial. Lahey and Barnett are singer-songwriters who write lyrics laced with sly one-liners and lingering anxieties. They both contrast their sardonic sensibilities as writers with music that draws from boisterous ’90s guitar-rock. And, yes, they’re both Australian.
But while Lahey and Barnett resemble each other in the broad strokes, they diverge considerably in the fine print. Yes, they’re both witty and a little sad, but Barnett is noticeably sadder than the naturally ebullient Lahey. Sure, they both clearly were shaped by alt-rock, but Barnett is more early-’90s grunge while Lahey screams late-’90s pop-punk. And, unquestionably, they’re both Australian. But Lahey is the one who will make you want to dance around stupidly after drinking too much Foster’s.
When Lahey put out her sparkling 2017 debut album, I Love You Like A Brother, she staked her claim as a budding pop tunesmith with a preternatural command of craft. The trappings were scrappy, melodic punk, but Lahey’s songwriting style hewed closer to Max Martin in “Since U Been Gone” mode. (It’s no wonder that Lahey has also been compared with one of the defining pop-punk bands of the last decade, Paramore.) Lahey’s energy and sarcasm were invigorating, but the strength of zippy singles like “Every Day’s The Weekend” is that they were built sturdily from the ground up on rock-solid fundamentals — catchy verse, catchier chorus, equally catchy bridge, repeat — making them impervious to the rigors of repetition as they were spun endlessly on NPR affiliates from coast to coast.
Lahey confirmed that she was in it to win it when I interviewed her two years ago. She came across like an extremely well-prepared job candidate applying for the position of legacy artist, name-dropping two peerless icons, Bruce Springsteen and Dolly Parton, as role models. In reference to the latter, Lahey mentioned that she was most impressed that Parton didn’t give up her publishing to “I Will Always Love You,” even when Col. Tom Parker said Elvis Presley wouldn’t cover it otherwise. You suspect that Lahey won’t be pushed around, either.