Joan Wasser - aka Joan as Police Woman - has a reputation as one of the coolest women in rock. Look beyond the strong-female image, though, and you'll find a soul plagued by sensitivity and pain. That's the basis of Damned Devotion. It's a heartbreak hotel of an album. And down in the bar, they are playing sleazy electro-pop and Seventies soul.
Or to put it another way, the new album mixes the styles of her previous three. Languid, smoky vocals sit on top of arrangements that are so sparse, it's almost disarming. Apparently, the songwriting process began with Wasser improvising over a drum machine. It's easy to imagine how the demos must have sounded. Only the bare minimum of guitars and keyboards have been overlaid. The result is a stripped-back sound that oozes sexuality and regret.
The first three tracks hit you like a glass of scotch - bitter at first and then slowly intoxicating. The opener, "Wonderful" expresses repressed emotion in a voice that barely rises above a whisper. Next up, "Warning Bell" contemplates failed romances with a sad and weary melody. Finally, "Tell Me" lifts the pace with mid-tempo Eighties' guitars and falsetto backing vocals.
Elsewhere we find remnants of the experimental sound Wasser used on 2016's Let It Be You. The fidgety beats of "Steed (for Jean Genet)" and "Talk about it Later" make for a kind of avant-funk. Such musical spikiness is often matched by lyrics that are even rawer. On "The Silence", for instance, we hear an angry crowd chanting, "my body my choice, her body her choice".
Some are already calling Damned Devotion Wasser's best work to date. That's a moot point - it really depends on what you're looking for. There's certainly nothing here as warmly soulful as The Deep Field's "The Magic". Or as infectious as "Holy City" off The Classic. This is a deeper, darker and more sophisticated piece. Intriguingly released just before Valentine's Day, it's an album to get you through a long dark night of the soul.