Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Beware
We love a bit of melancholy in our music, don’t we? It’s the bands and artists that produce those sad, heart wrenching songs that we seem to embrace and offer complete devotion to. Perhaps we naturally mistrust anyone who is happy and optimistic all the time? Maybe we need music to reflect the realistic notion that sometimes, life can be a bit shit, cant it? Will Oldham has always naturally slotted into that niche, be it in the various Palace outfits or the more recognisable guise of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. It is as the latter that he releases his 17th album, his 9th in 9 nine years, Beware.
On first listen, it’s immediately apparent that Oldham has embraced a slightly new angle here. Don’t worry, he hasn’t suddenly utilised electronics or re-invented himself as the new Marilyn Manson, the songs are still there, as they were, they’re just elevated to a different level. For the first time Oldham’s music could well have mass - and dare I say it - commercial appeal. The song titles still offer a downbeat theme, ‘Death Final’, ‘You Don’t Love Me’, ‘You Are Lost’, among others, and the cover is slightly unsettling: Oldham, Yorick like on a jet black background - it’s the vibe that differs from previous works, it undoubtedly sounds positive.
‘Beware Your Only Friend’ invokes ghosts of Cash and Dylan, both musically and vocally. The production is noticeably more polished than Oldham has ever adopted in the past, and I have to say, he sounds blooming marvellous for it. The pure country of ‘You Can’t Hurt Me Now’ bristles with passion and energy, his voice still retains a frailty but is buoyed by a definite sense of optimism. Sounding as vital as anything he has penned before, ‘My Life’s Work’ should rightly feature on an Oldham Best Of, should he ever sanction one, which seems unlikely. He sings “It’s my life’s work/To bring you into the light/Out of the dark”, a bold statement of intent that will naturally contradict the generally regarded thought that he is all about the misery and despair of life.
The longing of ‘Heart’s Arms’, with its rousing chorus, speaks of an ended relationship, the music introverted and intense. It’s a complete contrast to the barn dance frivolities of ‘You Don’t Love Me’, jammed with fiddles, trumpets and its sing-along chorus, the track highlights the versatility of Oldham’s song writing and his complete mastery of it. ‘I Won’t Ask Again’ and ‘There Is Something I Have To Say’ are vintage Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, even the purists, who will, no doubt, have a plethora of gripes over Beware, will struggle to find fault with either.
Assuming you’re already an Oldham fan, whatever I have to say here won’t influence your decision to buy Beware, you’ve probably already got it, loved it, hated it, cried over it, stapled it to a Frisbee and flung it over a Rainbow. If you’re not already a fan but are wondering what all the fuss is about, then this could be a good place to start. Admittedly, the sublime I See A Darkness will probably always be seen as his definitive work, but unaided, the world of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy can be a scary place to be, Beware will guide you through safely and serve you well.