Who ever heard of a Wolverhampton troubadour? It’s not really a place you would expect to breed troubadours, but obviously Scott Matthews slipped through the net. You don’t often take a stroll around the Bullring and bump into a Woody Guthrie like character carrying around a battered guitar marked “This Machine Kills Fascists”. Although, honestly I’ve never been to the Bullring, it could be full of Woody Guthries for all I know. However the blurb on the front of Matthew’s new album ‘Elsewhere’ claims that he is and who am I to disagree.
His last album 2006’s ‘Passing Stranger’ was great and Ivor Novello award winning. For those not up on their 1920’s music hall songs, Ivor Novello wrote such 1920’s barnstormers as “Keep The Home Fires Burning”(Wikipedia-1 Robert-0) and was known to love temperamental, thoughtful Wolverhamptonite’s. Right at the bottom of the list of accolades and laurels for his last album, is the fact that I liked it. In fact I really liked his last record. His attempt at (to use a tired old cliché) “the tricky second album” though is very pared down, acoustic filled and ever so disappointing.
“Underlying Lies” is a great bombastic opener, and is an example of Matthew’s heavily orchestrated old sound. I like strings and lushly orchestrated tracks ala Scott Walker and Bill Fay, but sometimes when it goes to far, over-orchestrated tracks can sound like a bad Roger Moore era Bond theme. Not advisable. Especially if it involves Sheena Easton But Matthews handily avoids such comparisons here and on his last effort. Just as an aside, I dislike every Bond film except the ones with Roger Moore in. Admitting Roger Moore is my favourite Bond has lost me friends, associates, pets and clergymen and I think I need to join a self help group.
After the pastoral opener the album takes a much folkier acoustic turn, in fact sometimes his phrasing reminds me of folk legend Nick Drake and Richard Thompson. The acoustic sound is backed up with a sprinkling of violin and cello, with a female backing vocal. On the track “Suddenly You Figure Out”, the albums highlight, Matthew’s is backed by what sounds like a ragged old colliery band, complete with flat caps and ashen faces.
Many tracks have a kind of Simon and Garfunkel, Scarborough Fairesque use of vocal harmony, but while the music is lovely most of the lyrics are just so dull and empty that listening to them is the equivalent of sitting watching a rabbit turn grey. For example the song “Fracture”: “What is it you want/you decide/and I’ll leave you alone/but not on your own/fractured heart/dented your start/on the plans that you made/but your plans blew away.” Mind blowing stuff as you can see. Ivor Novello is spinning in his grave.
Robert Plant also makes an appearance on the song 12 Harps. Great. Like my love for Roger Moore my hate of Led Zeppelin also raises eyebrows sometimes. Actually never. Which culturally aware people ever talk about Led Zeppelin? Urgh. But again even with “star power” (and I use the term loosely), the song is totally undistinguishable from the seven other acoustic dirges that feature.
“Into the Firing Line” and “Up on the Hill” are good upbeat tracks, which offer an awfully welcome break from the poorly written gloom.
So while a few song’s here have some fire behind them, the acoustic tracks consistently fall flat, they lack the sense of palpable misery and heartbreak that propels many of the great acoustic compositions. In some cases his songs here are misery by numbers that spout over used platitudes.
If you dig John Martyn, Nick Drake or Tim/Jeff Buckley, you will like this album, but unlike their piece de resistance’s (butcher a French phrase there) your unlikely to listen again and again.