What does it sound like?:
Matt Berry is a bit like that kid at school where everything he turns his hand to is a success. But his charisma prevents you from disliking the annoying over-achiever.
And so it is with his music career. He’s been releasing albums for a decade and a bit, and with this one he really has gone full polymath – playing all instruments (except the drums), writing, producing, arranging, even supplying the painting for the cover.
‘The Blue Elephant’ is a journey through summer sounds against a backdrop of 60s Garage-Psych, The Doors meets Deep Purple, Proggy moments, and even a near David Bowie vocal impression. But it’s not a retro exercise – this is as much a product of 2021 as the debt it owes to the past. Breezily familiar yet brand new. Relaxing yet occasionally jarring. An exercise in audience pleasing as much as pleasing the artist himself.
Berry’s sometimes over enunciated tones fit the musical styles, although the album is sometimes let down by weak lyrics. Actually, those lyrics might be weak on purpose – maybe Matt Berry can’t help himself returning to Comedy-type.
“It’s a drag to be set on fire, I’ve been sacked from the choir, I came back to Bedfordshire”
“There’s something in the air, There’s someone on the street, There’s something in my hair, There’s someone you should meet”
“Me, me, I don’t care, Don’t touch my hair, Try not to stare”
“In my home, all alone, Hide my bone, Live alone, kill my phone, Watch my tone”
But the lyrics are a minor quibble – it’s all about the music and ambiance that the album delivers.
“Abroad” is a breezy instrumental easing you in before “Summer Sun” goes full on 60s Garage-Psych. Probably the most incessant (and best) track on here. It is familiar yet unheard before. A rare trick to pull off.
As you progress through the tracks, you get the notion that The Doors were something of a touchstone/reference point, even closely cribbing “Riders On The Storm” through the breakdown of “Alone”.
All tracks closely butt up to each other rendering the album best consumed as a whole rather than split out to individual tracks.
There are a couple of instrumental linking tracks – notably in the form of “Safe Passage” and “Safer Passage” which to these ears are the same track fed in different directions through the Tape Machine.
A trick I feel is repeated with “Story Told” and “Forget Me”. These two tracks are either a backward recording, or a forward and backward version combined.
After “Summer Sun”, special praise goes to “Blues Inside Me” – a blues-rock / late 60s / Glam Rock stomp which starts in Jim Morrison territory before mutating into something that feels like an early David Bowie cut.
The listing of instruments used includes 11 varieties of keyboard ranging from piano, Wurlitzer, Hammond Organ, Vox Continental and a bank of synthesisers.
Vastly under-rated rock instruments like Xylophone and Glockenspiel are also listed, giving rise to the cry “More Glockenspiel!” as some tracks unfold.
Although Matt Berry plays everything (and at points feeds his vocals through a vocoder), in a lot of cases it’s the drums that drive the songs – managing to stay on dead beat but with enough randomness and flourish to add more depth and colour to the picture.
What does it all *mean*?
There is much to like with ‘The Blue Elephant’, but aside from the 2 stand out tracks highlighted, one wonders how substantial the songs are. In context, they work together creating an almost perfect soundtrack for relaxed summer evenings – as a whole it definitely hits a spot. Just not convinced there is a “Great” album here – a “Very Very Good” one perhaps, but just falling short of Greatness.
Goes well with…
Lazy Summer Evening reverie, and some beer (or wine if you must)
Might suit people who like…
Vintage and Contemporary sounds in one easy to digest package