Furia King Without A Clue Review
Furia/The War Against Silence review. Moderately positive.
Author: Glenn McDonald.
Date: 8 March 2001.
Original URL: http://www.furia.com/twas/twas0319.html
My last mail-order package from Australia brought not only Hunters and Collectors’ farewell live album but this 1997 solo album from H&C singer Mark Seymour.
H&C were an ensemble band in a way that the Waterboys never were, so in the three years I’d had to wonder about this album before finally hearing it I imagined outcomes as distressing as a Buster Poindexter-style novelty act and as drearily predictable as a limp attempt to teach some session players to provide the same kind of backing Seymour got in H&C (and attempt that would almost certainly have been doomed, since in H&C the music wasn’t “backing”). In the end this proves unnecessary, as sometimes-H&C guitarist Bruce Palmer produces, plays lead guitar and co-writes a few songs, Mark’s brother Nick (of Crowded House) plays bass and Australian veteran drummer Peter Jones and organist Bruce Haymes fill in around them. Helen Mountfort and Hope Csutoros from My Friend the Chocolate Cake show up to add cello and violin to a couple songs without lending them much MFtCC atmosphere to them, and in toto this album follows the most basic first-post-group-solo-album sonic pattern, expanding on the old band’s palette without trying to replicate or repudiate it. Without H&C’s collective lungs to inflate these songs, Seymour is left to survive on either his own fervid presence or refined songwriting skills, and I might have guessed he’d incline towards the former, but I’d have been wrong. If anything he’s quieter than ever, perhaps welcoming the challenge of writing some smaller songs.
“Last Ditch Cabaret” is sturdy and mid-tempo, “We’ll go cheek to cheek / As we squeeze into the crowd” in the sparkly chorus a faint echo of “Shed your skin and let’s get started”. The sighing “You Don’t Have to Cry Anymore”, with pattering hand-percussion and a hushed chorus hovering on the edge of falsetto, is open-hearted and unforced. The chiming “The Ghost of Vainglory” sounds in parts like it could be Mark’s version of Extreme’s pretty songs, but the chorus adds amiably shuffling drums and a touch of country twang. The verses of the title track are farfisa coy, but the chorus is a yearning, crunching H&C throwback. “Look What She’s Done to You” is a little meandering for my tastes, but “Home Again” is an elegant lullaby and “Deathwish” is delicate and enchanted. “Cry Wolf” sounds like a sanded-down H&C song to me, but “Can’t Crawl That Way” is simmering blues. Vika Bull supplies airy backing vocals on the ardently simple, gracefully soaring “The One You Love”, maybe the album’s least cluttered pop song. The ending makes me think, briefly, that Mark and I have different ideas of his strengths, as he opts to go out with “Until the Day They Die”, a dubious-marriage song heavy on narration and light on melody.
My copy of this album comes with its own appendix, however, a six-song live acoustic set with a different band, and I’m quickly reassured. “Radio Death Song” is morbid but self-contained and voluble. “Can’t Crawl That Way” loses most of its blues cast and reminds me more of the Alarm’s version of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”. “The Ghost of Vainglory” is even more charming here, erratically paced and unevenly harmonized. “Home Again” and “Look What She’s Done to You” aren’t much different than the studio versions. And faced with what must have been a strong temptation to throw in one H&C song for instant-nostalgia’s sake, Seymour instead substitutes a jangling, howling version of “Richard Cory” that reinstates some of the labor-anthem intensity that Simon & Garfunkel’s lacked.