The Strange Death of Liberal England - Drown Your Heart Again
"The flames all around are smouldering blooms / Of blackbirds trapped in smoke filled rooms / I stare at the walls and sing to the moon / I find my faith hidden under rocks / Where my body aches with passion and for God / Where I keep a shotgun buried in a box." ('Curtain Falling')
A portrait of the artist as a nervous wreck. Adam Woolway, the leader of this splendid and splendidly named (after, unpredictably, George Dangerfield's pre-war tract on the decline of the Liberal party) five piece has little truck with modesty in the face of a listening audience. All hail to that. Your reaction to this intense debut proper (in 2007 they released a mini album Forward March!) will depend very much on not only how you take to Woolway's lyrical methodology but also his unchained vocal stylings. That said, I do like a man who's prepared to commit "I let the sea wash over me" to the public record and if he chooses to howl his way around the sentiment, no complaints here. Tales of relationships in cinders, heart charred beyond recognition, thoughts of throwing in the towel dominate proceedings. With its near epic arrangements and heady use of strings, brass, woodwind and crazed percussion, Drown Your Heart Again frames a rock band foundation with chamber precision. It is a shattering experience but, as repeated listenings make clear, beautifully orchestrated and ripe for exploration.
Those hardy enough to explore its demands and brave the onslaught will be rewarded. If you find yourself jumping to the almost obvious and noting that Arcade Fire got there first, I'd advise a rethink. For a starter, if you think the Canadian band have the monopoly on baroque 'n' roll, you're not looking hard enough. (Of the top of my head, The Dears and The Airborne Toxic Event are both navigating similar roads.) And, if indeed TSDOLE have had to settle for silver, where's the crime in that? There's hardly a queue after all. If it's not entirely original (not a criteria I think I've ever been that bothered about applying, I must say) it's certainly executed with intelligence and fire. The depth and quality of the arrangements is often staggering. You will find little token application of a couple of violins for colour here; a whole orchestra appears to be soaring beneath several tracks. And lyrically, yes, diverting - a theme of water, the sea, drowning (forget waving) scratches its way to the surface and is deftly employed.
The songs bring with them the salty tang of the south coast setting in which they were conceived. Once noticed, I struggle to pick out one that doesn't use the sea (drowning, rather than floating on a lilo, you understand) as a metaphor. Opener 'Flickering Light' sets the tone: "I cut the anchor to demonstrate that nothing lasts forever anyway / I watch films of when I was young and think of all the things I could have done." La la la! Introspection in a very minor key. Ever compelling. 'Flagships' punches a hole in the atmosphere: "I walk on water but I'd rather sink / Tie my hands to my body and jump into the sea / Run to the edge and jump off the pier / I said there's nothing left, nothing left around here." Desolation is all around. Weirdly, almost disappointingly, Drown Your Heart Again closes quietly with both 'Yellow Flowers' and 'Dog Barking at the Moon' slipping out the door under a cloud of twilight balladry. The former, though, surprises; a couple of minutes of just Woolway and guitar giving way to not, as feared, Coldplay-esque bombast but something all together more elegaic and lit, possibly, by a thin ray of hope.
Once over the initial punch to the guts, you may find yourself, as I did, drawn without much choice into this haunted but enervating landscape. Woolway, clearly a story teller of some measure and a band leader of real stature, sends out songs possessed of wildfire dynamics that suggest he and his cohorts are unstoppable onstage. This record, gloriously bold, teases that possibility for those of us yet to see them live. (They tour the UK throughout October. Sleeping bag. Outside. Yesterday.) Any reservations are minor. The focus on delivering a record that crows its elementary dynamics (only 'Shadows' has anything vaguely catchy going on) makes it tricky to exactly recall much of its contents. But stick it on and it's on until the end, such is its depth and grip. Not the sweetest record of the year, probably not the most challenging, but certainly the most affecting. Drown Your Heart Again is beguiling, troubling even and leaves me, to some degree, concerned for its creator. The last time I felt like that about a record, its writer took a shotgun to his head. I sincerely hope that making this music is enough of a release to allow Adam Woolway, like the rest of us, to smile through his Coco Pops and chortle at people who trip on paving slabs. Because I want, need, more.