What does it sound like?:
Well it sounds massive. Produced by RT (no Americana muso involvement as for the recent Jeff Tweedy and Buddy Miller collaborations), the sound is big beefy and rocky. Opening track “The storm won’t come” has piledriving power chords and a stonking guitar solo while Richard sings of his wish for an Amageddon like cleansing of the world – “Blow these sad buildings down, fire burn what fire may, rain to wash it all away”. So far, so Old Testament. The album is very much a band effort and track 2 starts with a syncopated drum heavy blast of riffing before “The Rattle Within” despairs at man’s inability to deal with his inner demons. More religious imagery here… Track 4 also mentions Armageddon, but this time with reference to the narrator’s all consuming possessiveness and defensiveness of his beloved – you can infer this is not the healthiest of relationships. He’s a fallen soul – early on we learn “as a kid I saw rainbows, but life turns you upside down, shakes the money out of your Wranglers, leaves you heaving on the ground”. In between wracked verses RT’s Stratocaster spits out a series of howling and wailing notes just like a proper guitar hero. “Trying” lightens the mood slightly in that there’s a chorus more along the lines of “Turning of the tide” with Judith Owen adding sweetening harmonies, but don’t get out the party hats – RT tells us “I thought I could fake forever, but I was wrong”. We’ve all been there. The songs are bleak, pounding, rocking like flip and get better with every listen. The album lightens in mood and tone as it goes on – “You can’t reach me “ is much popper than the earlier tracks, for example, though the religious themes continue – “you can’t reach me, my education comes from above” we learn, and there’s another nippy, unplayable (to mere mortals), guitar solo. The final track gives the glimmer of optimism where RT tells us “If life is for living I’m your man…I’m shaking the gates of Heaven”. A Tig-like re-sequencing might make the doomy early section easier on the ears, but I don’t think that’s what producer Thompson intended at all. He has said he does write grim stuff but there’s always a ray of hope at the end – this is that methodology at album level. You have the earn those sweet harmonies. What sounds dense and impenetrable on first listen reveals itself to be rich and complex but by no means unpalatable after a few plays.
What does it all *mean*?
These songs hint at RT seeing something terrible coming, and wanting it to arrive so we can get it over with and deal with the struggle for redemption. He’s like a crazy man shouting in the street, or Howard Beale in the latter part of “Network” screaming incoherently about some impending disaster he’s unable to articulate. It means RT is still on fire as a songwriter, and this album sounds like he means it. “Oh let me be uplifted, oh take this weight from me, and heal me from my demons, and forever I’ll be free” he sings. Perhaps it accords with my generally pessimistic mood at the moment – it’s all going downhill isn’t it? I’m with RT here.
Goes well with…
There’s a lot here so to get to the good stuff it deserves a proper listen initially, ruminative glass of the good stuff in hand and headphones on. But now I know it it goes with anything.
Might suit people who like…
Mrs.T and I have a theory that there is Easy RT and Hard RT – easy being “Vincent Black Lightning”, “Beeswing”, “Persuasion”, “A heart needs a home” – which any but the fatally cloth eared will enjoy. Then there’s the hard, heavy, uncompromising stuff, bleak, tormented and rocking, which is mostly what you get here. Happily I can take either flavour, but lovers of the sweeter end of the menu might pass. There is no evidence of his peerless acoustic guitar playing at all though I do think I detect a touch of the rarely heard Thompson mandolin on “O Cinderella”. It’s an electric guitar masterclass, mind you.