Joseph Arthur - Our Shadows Will Remain
Sam Wetherell 11/07/2005
As the first few chimes of “In Ohio” begin to bleat, I yank out the CD inlay of Joseph Arthur's “Our Shadows Will Remain”. Despite being thicker than a double spaced edition of War and Peace, it contains no lyrics, or notes, or anything really other than 35 vague pretentious pieces of art and photography and makes the inlay of Kid A look like a Garfield comic.
The album opens impressively enough however with “Can't Exist”. Dreamy and cathartic at the same time it slurs drunkenly from side to side and washes over you like a vat of luke-warm Listerine. This is followed by “Stumble and Pain” the best track this album has to offer. Both haunting, and perfectly paced, it jars suddenly into silence a few minutes in. From this silence the song slips into a glistening violin riff, riddled with electronic bleeps and vague guitar chuggings. It promises an intelligence, and an experimentalism that, frustratingly is never quite repeated later on in the album.
At his worst Arthur sounds like a religious Willy Mason, belting out a few clean-cut Sunday morning tunes to entertain the kids in the congregation, while the preacher smiles on in bemused approval, nodding his elderly head. This problem is exacerbated by a run of three songs early on in the album - “Devil's Broom”, “Echo Park” (I should point out to all the fourteen year olds among us that this is not, so far as I can tell, an allusion to the Feeder album), and “Even Tho”. For “Devil's Broom” Arthur is reduced to a mawkish, crooning, over-sentimentality - repeating the line “you mean everything to me” far more times than is necessary. This theme is repeated in “Echo Park” which is about as cutting edge as the Church of England (the Vicar would really be swaying now).
By the end of “Even Tho”, however, it becomes clear that he's gotten the worst excesses of his treacly style out of his system. Halfway through “Puppets” I hear the word “Novocain”, and begin to feel that everything's going to be okay after all. Recovery is a long process however, and its not until “I Am” that the churchy timbre is fully exorcised from his voice. Until “I Am” the songs have been getting progressively better by degrees, and this song, with its powerful chorus and complex, jittery melodies represents the culmination of this improvement.
Unfortunately he has a sudden relapse with “A Smile that Explodes”. The track name may sound like something by Four Tet, but believe me its not. His choice here to largely sing in duet with a female vocalist was a bit of a mistake (their two voices never quite gel together). This wouldn't be a problem if he didn't insist on indulging in toe-curling rhyming couplets such as “If I found you there/with flowers in your hair” which sounds suspiciously like they've been half inched from “Misty Mountain Hop” by Led Zeppelin.
So 2005 is the year of the singer/songwriter. Rufus, Willy, and of course the great Lord Connor have already bloated the market it and Arthur may find it hard to get a place. I have a problem with these artists. One-man-and-his-acoustic-guitar music, whether its played by Paul Weller before 100,000 people at some overstuffed festival, or by a drunken uncle at three o clock in the morning on Christmas day, nearly always sounds the same to me. With the odd exception, Archer is never quite able to escape this mantle, but as a singer songwritery kind of album, its probably worth checking out.