“Well, this is slightly different from what I expected,” I find myself thinking at “Satellite Town” opens the latest release from Boo Hewerdine. I confess that I am unfamiliar with Hewerdine’s previous solo work, and know him mostly from his collaborations with fellow guitarist Kris Drever, but I had anticipated the album to sound a bit more like Drever’s music due to this. Instead, I am thrust into unfamiliar territory with what sounds like an indie-rock stomper, but with the occasional swing into a jazz interlude. “A Letter To My Younger Self” continues this jazzy trend, with a few rocky elements brought in as well for good measure. It is a lot different from what I expected, especially after the rave reviews from this album from the rest of the folk press, and whilst I do not object to the sound so far I do find myself questioning whether it is misplaced in its advertised genre.
The personal lyrics do shine through as the album progresses, and that in itself is an enjoyable thing to reflect on. However, once getting over the initial shock in a departure from what I expected, the musical arrangements of the album fail to surprise me and seem to remain fairly stagnant, as if I were listening to a pop-rock album. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, and as a singer-songwriter contribution perhaps it does stand out thematically, but it is not a style of music I profess myself qualified to write about. Songs like “Gemini”, whilst sounding great audibly on a first listen, do not do much for my ear other than find a middle ground between Oasis and Kaiser Chiefs, for example, and given that Hewerdine’s career speaks for itself that he is a remarkably talented songwriter, I simply do not feel that the album does him justice.
There are highlights, naturally, “Sleep” being one of them, as a chuggy waltz clearly inspired by the last few years of The Beatles, and “Drinking Alone” presents itself as an enjoyable contemplation despite being a lot more inoffensive than the name implies. Aside from the lyrics I can hear though, there is not a lot to go on. The album itself is presented as a single disc in a plastic wallet with only a front cover and no booklet; I think a lot more could be done for Hewerdine’s music by simply having just… more to it, I suppose, with regards to the physical product.
It is a shame, because I did really want to like this album more than I did. It does sound different to Hewerdine’s previous work, certainly, but it has taken that work into a more popular ground that does not allow the artist to experiment as much as he could. There are little-to-no risks taken with the music, despite the touching lyrics which do redeem the songs themselves somewhat. The songs blend together too much though, and there is not enough done to make any of them stand out as something more diverse.
I look forward to hearing what Hewerdine comes out with next, because despite my criticism there is definitely
promise in his “simple, poetic reflections on life and love” (as The Guardian helpfully put it). However, it is not for me and I do not feel it falls at all within the remit of the genres I normally get sent to review at all and that is probably where most of my criticisms come from. On the other hand I can see a great many people really getting something from this album, so by all means please do listen to it and make up your own mind.
Photo Credit: Richard Ecclestone