>Thoughtful sadness

So without boring you with the details I have had a bit of a crappy run of luck over the last couple of weeks culminating in being laid low with a virus today. Dark times, which in turn leads me on to thinking about that type of song which feeds into this mindset. I confess it to be one of my favourite themes so the five songs are a selection I recommend rather than hailing them as the greatest of their kind;

Melancholy

Wedding Bells by Hank Williams
As somebody younger and cooler than me would say, let’s take it old school (actually they would probably drop the apostrophe but I can’t bring myself to commit grammatical larceny). This was a track that I only found a couple of years back as I began to explore the roots of country and it stands out in the way Williams expresses the utter devastation of realising something you felt would happen is never going to. The contrast between the jubilation of the wedding guests and the emptiness of the defeated suitor is stark. The saddest aspect is how the fight has completely left the protagonist who can only lament what might have been.

I planned a little cottage in the valley
I even bought a little band of gold
I thought some day I’d place it on your finger
But now the future looks so dark and cold

The issue of lost love is a well covered topic and it would be remiss of me not to mention ‘She’s out of my life’ which I consider to be Michael Jackson’s most underrated song.

River Man by Nick Drake
Melancholy can be communicated in several different ways. Hank Williams shows us the most common and direct route – narrative. A more difficult yet no less effective method is to create the atmosphere of melancholy through the music and vocal delivery. Drake is the master of this and I could have chosen several other of his tracks but Riverman stood out for me. It appears to be a sad reality that artists capable of producing the finest melancholy must be afflicted by mental torment and Drake was no exception to this rule. Eliot Smith and Jeff Buckley are other wonderful, creative talents who were unable to reconcile their problems. For examples of their brilliance click their names.

Golden Age by Beck
I simply had to include something from the outstanding Sea Change album from 2002. It is common when an artist takes a dramatic change from what they have been known for – in Beck’s case innovative, sample laden, pop-funk – for the results to be less than impressive. Sea Change saw Beck adopt a far more simplistic, stripped down approach as he wrote an entire album about the collapse of his relationship with a long-term girlfriend. Golden Age opens the album and I feel beautifully articulates that borderline moment where you hope the worst might be behind you. It is far from an optimistic song as uncertainty of the future permeates the lyrics.

It’s a treacherous road
With a desolated view
There’s distant lights
But here they’re far and few

Yet the acknowledgement that a dark time has been endured suggests that things might just be looking up.

Not the Girl you think you are by Crowded House
‘Weather with you’ is both a great song and a curse. Great because it is undoubtedly a wonderful pop song that is loved by millions. Curse because it seems to have led millions more to dismiss Crowded House as ‘fun and quirky.’ It might make me sound like Alan Partridge but I genuinely consider Neil Finn to be one of the greatest song-writers of the last thirteen years and this song is a great example of that. The lyrics at first may appear positive yet the dark heart of this song is the dream boyfriend is a fiction to cover up the girl’s feeling of inadequacy. My Dad has always said this sounds like a great lost Lennon and McCartney song and I’m inclined to agree.

Shadowlands by Ryan Adams
This won’t come as any surprise and I will try and set aside the hero worship and focus on the song in question. It comes from the album ‘Love is Hell’ which as you might guess is a collection of songs very firmly in the melancholy category. There are several I could have chosen from this album and in fact many of Ryan’s others but this has a highly personal resonance for me. At the risk of sounding like a therapy session this song essentially soundtracked a very difficult time for my family. In the Summer of 2004 we lost my Uncle. I was not yet 21 and found the whole experience hugely difficult never having gone through bereavement before. I listened to the album a hell of a lot and this song in particular. As a way to try and deal with it as much as anything I decided to accompany my Dad down to the South to help sort out the funeral arrangements. We have a shared love of Ryan so it was natural that it wasn’t long into the journey down that Love is Hell was on the stereo. It was then my Dad revealed that when at the hospital waiting for the inevitable to be confirmed he sat in the car park, in the pissing down rain, and listened to Shadowlands. It seemed oddly fitting that when dealing with such a loss both Dad and I turned to the same song. As fate should have it, we saw Ryan later that year perform in Manchester and I don’t need to tell you the opening track. Suffice to say that the Pattison men had something in both their eyes for a few minutes that night. Apologies if a twee little story like that is pretty self indulgent but I guess writing a blog means I’m already guilty of that charge of intellectual vanity. Anyway, enjoy and absolutely timeless song.

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>Sounds like a Tim Burton movie…

>A slightly unsettling love of Laura Marling led to me deciding to have listen to these chaps – mainly due to the excellent name. The only other thing of interest I have discovered about them is the lead singer and writer is good friends with Robert Pattinson.

Been Listening by Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit 



So it seems folk is cool now. Well bloody good stuff as despite having plenty of cringe worthy moments as a genre it has give us some glorious, magical music whether it be Nick Drake, Joan Baez or more recent gems like Rachel Unthank and The Winterset. That’s without mentioning the obvious (initials: BD, answers to Zimmerman). So I was intrigued to listen to this album and see if Flynn is next in line to follow the success of Marling and Mumford & Sons. In all honesty, I don’t think they will. The opening track Kentucky Pill sets things off to a flyer and had this quality been maintained I would be absolutely raving about ‘Been Listening’ but unfortunately such heights are only briefly rivalled on a couple of other occasions on this album. A little too much brass and some frankly irritating percussion too often overshadows the talents of a sparkling lyricist. Flynn is capable of composing charming phrases which unmask a predilection for Shakespearean prose – I’m thinking in particular of ‘prickled interest seizing pride’ from the charming, wistful ‘Been Listening’. This flair for language is also effectively employed on the album stand-out ‘Barnacled Warship’ telling the story of an eager recruits transition to disaffected military campaigner. This track in particular made me think of the wonderful Decemberists album ‘Picaresque’ which is high praise indeed. Perhaps an unexpected negative is the duet with Laura Marling on ‘The Water.’ Perhaps my love of Marling is impeding my ability to fairly judge Flynn but I couldn’t help but feel this track would be better without him. His voice simply doesn’t compliment hers and there is no sense of harmonic synergy. The bluesy ‘Howl’ which follows is far better and transports the listener to a smoky bar.Flynn closes the album with two  ballads;  the beautiful Amazon Love, which features Lillie Flynn (presumably a relative) from Noah and the Whale, is a far more successful duet as the vocals are much more in harmony to create a track of pure velvet. Album closer ‘The prizefighter and the heiress’ has ambitions to be an epic but despite being a pleasant listens falls short of the grand statement it hoped to be.

I feel like Flynn is capable of great things and would perhaps be better served following a separate musical path from his band who consistently seem at odds with the talented writer. This is an enjoyable album but feels overall like an opportunity missed.

Definitely one to watch but far from the finished article yet. As a caveat I suspect this could be a grower and I could well scold my middling initial rating. I’ll keep you posted (if you excuse the pun).

Six out of Ten.