This week, almost 20 years since she first stepped into the spotlight as lead singer of early ’90s girl group Girlfriend, Robyn Loau releases her second solo album, Only Human.

It’s an eclectic mix of sounds, perhaps testament to the album’s long gestation period.

“When you’re an independent artist, it’s a matter of chipping away at it and doing as much as you can when you’ve got the funds,” Loau told the Star Observer.

“I actually started out writing this album with the intention of making it my ‘sell-out’ album. Catchy, simple tunes that would sell quite easily and that radio would pick up straight away.

“However, when you set out on a mission like that, it really takes its toll on your creative side. I realised it was more important for me to write music that was fulfilling and autobiographical.

“So that mission to write a sell-out album was doomed from the start,” she laughed.

Indeed. Only Human makes for occasionally challenging listening, from the frenetic drum and bass of Hard, sung from the point of view of a bullied student seeking revenge by bringing a gun to school, to the full-on dance-rock assault of current single Never Let You Down, in which Loau takes a cheating ex to task: “I will never fuck around/ Until you fuck around first,” she spits.

“This is therapy for me. It’s cheaper than counselling, that’s for sure. For me as an artist, dancing up on stage in a flower hat singing about eternal love [as she did in Girlfriend] didn’t sit right with me.

“I experience joy of course, but lyrically, I prefer the … meatiness of pain.”

The record features songwriting collaborations with a couple of other outspoken female singers, Nikka Costa and Skin from Skunk Anansie, and a clutch of cover versions, including a faithfully high-pitched take on Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights.

“I don’t think you can steer too far away from the original without taking away the guts of the song,” Loau said. “I started playing that live a couple of years ago, and got the most incredible response from people.”

This year, Loau will stage her most ambitious live show yet, a Bush-reminiscent mix of theatrical performance, rock concert and contemporary dance piece, complete with trained ballet dancers on stage. Sydney fans can get a sneak peek of the work during a free concert this Australia Day.

“I could come out like any other act and do a show of my latest songs with a band, but I wanted to go back to my roots of dancing and theatrics. I enlisted ballet teacher James Taylor, who I used to run into when I taught at the Sydney Dance Company, and musical director Ian Gordon to create this music and dance piece that’s a lot more indicative of who I am than a straight-up concert.”

info: Only Human is out now on iTunes and instore January 29. Sydney audiences can catch Loau at The Rocks Australia Day Festival of the Voice from 11am on January 26. Visit www.myspace.com/robynloau

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