Some artists become legends. They become household names. Most people will know at least one or two of their songs. For whatever reason their mainstream success transcends commercialism, and they end up transforming popular culture and by extension, culture at large. These artists’ names become adjectives. Dylan-esque. Beatles-esque.
Australian enfant terrible Nick Cave may not have quite reached that stage, but he’s close. Most music lovers will immediately understand it when you call something ‘Nick Cave-esque”.
Of course, the adjective itself can quickly become a crutch for lazy reviewers, and all too often for artists as well. So it’s a pleasant surprise to hear a release that can be called Nick Cave-esque but still very much marches to its own beat.
John Murry’s life story in itself is the stuff of legends. From an unhappy, over-medicated childhood to drug addiction, musical success, and another fall into addiction and even prison, his life story reads like a book. He also was adopted into William Faulkner’s family at birth (a cousin of his mother). John certainly need not look far for inspiration.
A Short History of Decay is an album that resulted from a chance meeting with Cowboy Junkies guitarist Michael Timmins. Recorded over a five day period with an emphasis on off-the-cuff creativity, the album is a strong statement by an iconoclastic artist, backed by a tight group of excellent musicians.
This is a sonically adventurous release, frantic and understated at the same time, with cavernous piano, telephone vocals, sudden volleys of fuzzed-out guitar, and the backup vocals of Cait O’Riordan ( the Pogues, Elvis Costello) .
Silver or Lead starts off with a sombre piano, joined by minimal drums and bass. The song walks a tightrope between sombre dirge and a more hopeful sing-along chorus while remaining solidly entrenched in Murry’s trademark melancholy.
Under a Darker Moon is a personal favourite, grinding and sputtering along happily on a solid bed of bone-dry drums and psychotic guitars. Wrong Man reminds me of Nebraskaera Bruce Springsteen and is one of the strongest cuts on the album. Murry’s vocals on this song give me a mental picture of the world’s loneliest monk, preaching to the buzzards and rattlesnakes in the Mohave Desert, right before the fiery ball in the sky claims his sanity.
Another mid-tempo rocker is Defacing Sunday Bulletins, with Murry’s spine-tingling telephone vocals steering the sonic mayhem with steady if slightly trembling, hand. Miss Magdalene is an achingly beautiful acoustic song reminiscent of Leonard Cohen at his most morose.
Originally an Afghan Wigs tune, What Jail is Like is a guitar-driven ballad with sad piano, tribal drums, and some of that good old-fashioned backwards guitar. The lyrics take on extra poignancy in light of Murry’s life story.
A Short History of Decay is a gripping album, sonically adventurous, by an artist who’s paid his dues, came out a stronger man and an iconoclastic artist who made a career out of transforming tragedy and hardship into stark beauty.
review from charlie who will be featuring more on this blog .