Given the lack of respect the industry afforded her, you can't blame Studt for making her return with pigeon steps rather than big, bounding leaps: she played her comeback gigs under an assumed name, while My Paper Made Men, this belated sophomore album, is being released solely as a download. Thankfully, opening track 'Sad Sad World' suggests that Studt's toughened up during her extended holiday: "I'm not that girl any more, she went away," she hisses over snarling rock guitars. "Now I'm the one with the game, I won't get played."
As this startling opener suggests, My Paper Made Men finds Studt attempting to reposition herself as a credible, emotionally literate singer-songwriter. Nothing here sounds like a British take on Avril Lavigne, as Studt's early hits 'Under The Thumb' and 'Misfit' did, while her lyrics deal with very adult themes of self-doubt, outsiderdom and loneliness. The album's sound, alternately gothic, rocky, lush and low-key, suggests Studt's been swotting up on her femme-pop forbears recently.
Therein lies the problem, because Studt has a tendency to wear her influences rather too literally. With its ringing piano riffs and overdubbed vocals, 'Nice Boys' comes across as a Tori Amos pastiche rather than a song in its own right, while one too many tracks use Kate Bush-style vocalising ("ahyeahayeaha" and the like) to add layers of intrigue. Worst of all, does Studt really mimic Bjork's accent on the chorus of 'Walking Out'?
Lack of originality aside, My Paper Made Men is frequently very promising. The intimate, stripped back intimate 'One Last Cigarette' spotlights Studt's way with a melody, while the strikingly raw 'Furniture' suggests she could yet develop an artistic identity of her own. Her voice, able to cope with the rock bombast of 'Chasing The Light' and the more subtle approach needed for 'Furniture', is an impressively supple instrument.
Ultimately, My Paper Made Men is a little too derivative and self-consciously serious to count as a successful reinvention for Studt, but there's enough here to earn her a second (third?) crack at the whip. For now, this album does at least confirm what your mother always told you: growing up isn't supposed to be easy.