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‘Nicotine and Neon’ encapsulates that slick, sexy, yet simple trademark combo of the classic badass rock heroines from decades previous – consider Nico’s femme fatale mystique that never revealed too much on or off the stage. That airy-yet-confident poise with restrained dynamics lives on through Heather O’Neill who knows when and how much to apply herself without overbearing the listener.
A highly-intuitive talent indeed, and no doubt the greatest merit of the track. The track’s bridge exemplifies this best; it’s almost a tease how she tapers off certain lines, rendering an expectation of some belting, soulful wail any second but never delivering.
It’s a minor miracle that in 2018, a 1-2-3 pentatonic climb on the guitar (AKA the quintessential rock riff) can still tap toes. Anytime a revival act on a puritanical mission to save rock n’ roll comes along, my inner-sceptic kicks in and won’t budge until it hears an original stamp on the myriad of well-trodden fretboard paths.
For O’Neill, there’s nothing inventive about her band here, but she skips over being a bland write-off by dancing triplet-heavy, swooning vocals around that chugging bass tone which drives the riff. After several mashings of the play button, I’m yet to find this aspect gimmicky or tiring; all in all, this is a solid rock tune.
Solid, but nothing more for ‘Nicotine and Neon’. Heather O’Neill has potential, but there’s work to be done with carving out an identity through a more nuanced, individualised brand of songwriting, lest she succumbs to a revival act herself (check out the opening four track medley on Laura Marling’s Once I was an Eagle as an example of this in spades).