King William further bolsters his place on the battlefield, bringing folkier tropes back into his southern-rock drawl from Cornwall, via his convoluted history and geography.
Release Date: 28th July 2023
Label: Chrysalis Records
Format: CD / vinyl / digital
Album number four from the erstwhile folkie turned power trio, and I dare say Ruarri Joseph is sick of his past incarnation being still drawn out in every review, but, bear with me, Ruarri, there is a purpose. For, however keen he is, if he is, to expunge that past, fragrant hints of that melodicism creep unmistakably in to this recording. Sure, the guitar remains the slash and burn electric strum of Southern (U.S.) Rock, the vocal delivery more sprech than sang, but the often layered choruses to many of the songs, utilising the honeyed contrast of bassist, Naomi Holmes, cast a reminder of those possibly simpler times. And the contrast is effective and uplifting. Sure, the earlier WtC sets were always solid and surefire, but this has that much more gilt to gird the angular structures that could be just a bit otherwise gaunt.
Coming into fruition first during lockdown, Joseph was thrown into the contrast of his own career being on indefinite on hold, with that of his wife, as a mental health worker, being thrown into overdrive. Casting any self pity to one side, for a while he even became a temporary care worker himself, witnessing personally the all too fine line between a faltering sanity and its flip, where creativity can destroy its own source.
A squall of guitar introduces the opener, The Puppet And The Puppeteer, ahead of Holmes and the metronomic precision of Harry Harding’s drums laying down a solid furrow, for Joseph to add a layer of clangy strum, a simple and effective repetitive riff. “I was elsewhere as usual, minding my own again” sets the mood for a wry observation on observed mania, all in his wry sing-speak, with a then unexpected chorus, almost dropping the backing completely, as Joseph and Holmes declaim a clarion call connecting the verses, “I need a rethink!“. And so it goes, mixing the exploratory rock of the verses with the melodic romanticism of the choruses, sounding almost West Coast psychedelic circa 1967. Being, nominally, a guitar band, there is also a suitably fiery burst of pyrotechnic.
Bruises is then a Kinks-y melody, Joseph getting as close to a croon as he now chooses, for a whimsical reflection on wreck-lationship. An intelligently rueful lyric commentates rather than criticises. Sheepskin Sleeve is a doughty walking blues(ish). More intriguing imagery: “According to Joseph, Judas was ginger“, in a song chocka with biblical reference, and Joseph, I think, the disciple rather than the singer, and ginger, well, could be either of tonsure or a description of a timid cack-handedness, the next words around pouring milk on a fire. Where I get lost. But it’s a great journey, even if destination unknown. Towards the end, there is the addition of some tinkling descending piano notes, that add a neat contrast to the harsh drangs of guitar. Nice touch.
L.W.Y. starts off with just a drum beat, followed by some shimmery semi-acoustic guitar, giving again a West Coast vibe, the vocals somewhere between Paul Kantner and Tim Buckley. (And Tom Robinson, I suddenly realise, that comparison fitting also many of the constructions here. ) A glorious dreamy chorus, with Holmes in unison, adds further value to a song that suddenly embeds this album. “I’m lost within you, I’m lost without you” striking both conceptually as well as with the wordplay. Hence the acronym of a title, to be taken whichsoever you wish. Somebody Else, by contrast, is back to rhythm and commentary, the guitar weaving around the simple basic melody line, Holmes’ bass also a lively lope and Harding’s drums rampantly motorik. Shots Fired From Heaven slows things right down, the guitar and rhythm section a doomy plod, where plod is good, very good, think Crazy Horse or early Floyd, that bizarre cross-pollination working well in my head. Electric piano creeps in, and the moody low key chant of chorus builds, through guitar shenanigans and moans, to a screamed “Give me my medicine“. This becomes “I really need that medicine” for the next iteration. Like L.W.Y., a terrific song. Haunting.
The Tether returns to a that folkier semi-acoustic strum, over a 4:4 beat, and is a further Ray Davies and, now I’ve realised it, Tom Robinson fusion. A ghostly choir intone in the background, suggesting all may not augur well, some ice-rink organ doubling that frisson of fear. Elsie Friend sounds and seems aquainted with Eleanor Rigby, in style and structure, if with a less glossy coat of studio. Inititially more lightweight, it is the one I guarantee will sit in your ear, unprompted, later in the day. The brief guitar solo sings in a way George Harrison would appreciate. A Minutes Peace starts as if that is what it will offer, before picking into a stabbed/strummed guitar/keyboard motif. “I need a little help here“, and we are back into the narrator of the first song again. Or maybe the protagonist. There is a blurring of identity I enjoy. A hypnotic piece of reverie, another whisper of Floyd creeps in here and there, madness, whatever that is, a regular feature also of Roger Water’s lyrical canon. It occupies just over five of those minutes, if feeling less. (So play it again!)
In Your Arms closes the casebook with a sense of optimism, a look to the future, putting aside self-doubt and deprecations. Whose arms? Well, I read it as his partner, but, especially with the ensemble chorus, this may even reference some higher power. Choose as you will, it doen’t matter, but the sentiment is all good, as is the song. Joseph’s vocal is near conversational, and is as relaxed as he gets, which is fitting and apt. A positive note to end on, in an album that shows distinct growth and progression from the earlier works, recouping earlier still experiences. Recommended.
Try out Somebody Else: