Songdog - The Time Of Summer Lightning
Chet Ripley 14/09/2006
It is an undoubtedly bad start. I recoil on sighting the cover artwork for Songdog's third album “The Time of Summer Lightning”, featuring as it does a dull photograph that undoubtedly had some pretentious notion floating around at its genesis, and a wretched typeface. It is first-steps Photoshop stuff. No. Scratch that, reverse it. This may well have been knocked up in MS Word. It does, however, capture perfectly the dearth of ideas and invention that reside within (Hmmm… bad cover artwork + bad album = good cover artwork?) It is also on One Little Indian whose lack of A&R nous should have surely sunk them years ago if it weren't for the anomaly among their roster that is Bjork*. At this stage, I am not holding out a great amount of hope but, hey, what-do-you-know, flip the monstrosity over and revealed are some mouth-watering song titles: One Day When God Begs For My Forgiveness, My Space-Rock Tape, The Sky Was So Blue It Was Scary. I'm on the up again; my hopes a little restored. Hope, eh? She's a cruel temptress…
The musical accompaniment, for it is just that, is largely unobtrusive and provides an innocuous backdrop. Many may regard it as being borne of sympathy and sensitivity but, regardless, it is innocuous. This is certainly not a record overflowing with memorable, hum-able, whistle-able, or radio-friendly tunes (although Jonathon Ross apparently loves their cover - both awful, an album highpoint and included here - of The Clash's Janie Jones). The Time Of Summer Lightning is a sombre affair. Perhaps sombre doesn't quite go far enough. If Tesco were to launch both a funeral directors and record-label, and it is surely just a matter of time in both instances, they might just release, in a superbly macabre show of synchronicity, a low-cost, double-disc collection of Music For Wakes. It would sound not entirely unlike this. That said, the main thrust of the record and, upon which I'm sure record company hopes are pinned, are the narratives, the stories, and the poetry. Hmmm…
Lyndon Morgans is, according to the accompanying press release, an award winning writer. I am assuming that this statement is a syntactic smokescreen. He may indeed be a writer but, on the evidence here, any award on his mantle must surely be something of the cycling proficiency variety; a swimming certificate perhaps. Lyrically, this is a difficult listen. Now you may tie yourself up in knots thinking that herein lays some complex lyrical code to be broken, that here is some of the densest and most articulate poetry ever set to music. For you, it may be that the endless details that scatter the lyrical landscape should be regarded as evidence of an observant eye and insightful mind. You may find the marriage of meandering meaning and milk-and-water melodies charming, emotionally affecting, touching even. At this point let me tell you, and quite categorically, that you would be wrong. We Brits do a wonderful trade in sharp wit and biting social satire, even whimsy, but when it comes to painfully earnest, MOR rock - let us be honest - it's best left to the Americans. Perhaps, it's the accent. Oh, hang on, it can't be the accent. Despite hailing from South Wales, the vocal stylings favoured by the Songdog front man borrow heavily from Springsteen, Dylan, Petty et al. Nope; can't be the accent. Lyndon chokes, strains, and over-emotes like an adolescent enthral to Oberst and it comes as some surprise to find that he is more senior in years than your average heart-on-sleeve troubadour. You'd think he would know better.
Of the opener; it is a two-chord plod wherein the narrator imparts that “he lost [his] cherry to Strawberry Fields Forever”, and “fell in love to Rubber Soul”. Following the chronology, it's nice to see that he did things in a chivalrous order: falling in love somewhere around Christmas 1965 and waiting until the summer of 1967 before consummating that love. This also introduces a key feature of the album, and of pop-history really, and that is the references to song within song. We get Beatles plaudits aplenty, a walk-on for Joni Mitchell, Sonny and Cher briefly reunited in mention, a dunk in the mug for Limp Bizkit, and a shout-out to Roxy's Virginia Plain. This kind of approach can be deliriously successful (see Dexy's “Jackie Wilson Said”, or Billy Bragg's “Levi Stubbs' Tears” for starters) but can often spell disaster. In the same way lazy journalists litter reviews with BandA+BandB+BandC comparisons, so bad writers litter popular cultural references through their work in the hope that they may be held by their audience in similar esteem to their quoted influences.
“The Republic Of Howlin' Wolf is memorable for the howling, oh yes, and the jaw clench that near splintered my molars upon hearing the line: “She said: wanna hear a beautiful noise? I said: now what noise would that be? She said: the noise I make when I come.” Bill Hicks' famously concise herald, “Fuck artists”, should carry with it a weighty footnote or appendix and guidelines therein of how to avoid insurance brokers in artists' clothing.
Oh, and Lyndon, Schopenhauer, were he still with us, would inexorably despise both your words and music. He would also hate this review. And the website that published it. And the web. And computers. And electricity. And justly so.
Something I have learned Lyndon from a string of heart-rending relationship failures is that nothing stings quite so bad as when someone uses your own words against you. To whit: I will jump off a bridge with every copy of this record I can find held in my arms. For the good of the world.
* …maybe they didn't do so bad putting out The Twilight Singers record, but, on the whole, the point stands.