This album has been a constant companion. There’s more than a touch of Angel Olsen both in the sound and the sentiment. “I can’t get you off my mind, you can’t get yours off the hostess”. The opening track, ‘Diving Woman’, is utterly compelling, but there’s much more than that. Try ‘Boyish’ and ‘The Body Is a Blade’ for starters.
John Murry seems to have lived more than one life already. He catalogued at least one of them in his harrowing, but magnificent previous release, ‘The Graceless Age‘. Five years on, the memories are still raw and they’re present on his new release. But in between John Murry has upped sticks and made a new start in rural Ireland. ‘A Short History of Decay’ captures both the bad times and the recent turn for the better and all in the manner of a dark Americana.
An erudite songwriter with rollickingly good tunes, Robyn Hitchcock is a legend. From Virginia Woolf to The Ramones, all of human life is here. Or the quirky and interesting bits at least. There’s ‘Mad Shelley’s Letterbox’, ‘Detective Mindhorn’, and a host of other characters in between. And just when you think it can’t get any better, there’s always the sublime closer, ‘Time Coast’.
Here are my top 5 favourite releases of 2012, in no particular order:
She can’t sing. The lyrics were phoned in by a bunch of hacks. There are a couple of really dire sub-X Factor numbers. And yet. This is a great album. ‘Off To The Races’ is utterly compelling throughout. The way the song swoops to a close for more than a minute is just sublime. There are moments on the title track, on ‘Carmen’, ‘Blue Jeans’ that transcend the usual pop schlock. They create a world. A humid, slightly seedy world. It’s not Lana’s world. Or mine. But, so what? It’s about the power of imagination. A total fabrication, but a wonderful example of where music can take you.
John Murry was the total antithesis of Lana Del Rey. This was the most real album of the year. Many of the songs come straight from Murry’s own experiences. They weren’t pretty. He nearly died of an overdose and he recounts the events in some detail. The results ought to be morbid, but they’re not. They’re magnificent. Flawless. Life-affirming. The sound was full. The pace often brisk. And it was clever. “What keeps me alive will kill me in the end”, he sings on ‘¿No te da ganas de reir, Sènor Malverde?’.
‘The strings sound good, Maybe add some flute”. Mr M had the lushness of It’s A Woman. The songs were slow. And there was room in them to let them utterly envelop you. But they were all tinged with sadness. Scrap that. They were thoroughly marinaded in it. The album was dedicated to the late Vic Chesnutt. Maybe it took such a loss to produce one final great Lambchop record. If that was his last act, then he can surely rest in peace.
This album should not work. Apart from the fact that after nearly 30 years of writing songs, and at a furious pace, there should be nothing left in the tank, this was officially billed as a country rock opera. Well, maybe it did work precisely because Howe Gelb is such an experienced songwriter and also because it sounded nothing like what you might imagine a country rock opera would sound like. Eclectic. Individual. Simply unique.
Field Report are a serious proposition. It’s hard to imagine them having much fun, or even smiling. But, if that’s the price of such a wonderful listen, then so be it. The songs on this album lingered. They were given plenty of space in which to develop, evolve. Nothing was hurried. Sure, the lyrics were a little pretentious at times. But these were genuine, organic, hand-crafted songs.
The Graceless Age marks the return of an arch miserabilist. Murry’s previous album was a collaboration with Bob Frank and consisted of two artists howling a bunch of murder ballads gruffly, very gruffly. Now, Murry’s back and he’s on his own. He’s been through an awful lot in the meantime. Not least, he OD’d and had to be revived by paramedics when both he and his dealer had given him up for lost. In this album, he tells us his story. “I’ve beaten my brain on benzodiazepines”, he sings, setting the scene, on ‘California’. At the end of ‘Little Colored Balloons’ he keeps repeating “On 16th and Mission”. 16th and Mission was where he OD’d. Affecting? You bet. Depressing? Not a bit. This is no grizzled old artist with just an acoustic guitar. This is miserabilism with tunes. Miserabilism with melodies. Miserabilism that makes you want to hum the chorus. The songs are epic and not just because two clock in at more than eight minutes. There’s a big sound. A huge sound. Keyboards and guitars of all sorts. Cellos. Backing vocals. The album rocks. Well, sometimes at least. Murry communicates real emotion in his lyrics. They’re confessional but never morose, never maudlin. And just so that things don’t get too comfortable, there’s always a sense that trouble isn’t very far away. Here, he tends to confine it to the spaces between the tracks. The cracked bell that tolls. The phone-in of the birth that almost never was. You end up being really glad that you aren’t John Murry, but so thankful that there still is a John Murry and that he can produce such a beautiful album.