Alex Valentine - A Short Album About Love
Owain Paciuszko 16/07/2009
Starting with the Travis-like Hurricane there's a pleasant, if not mind-blowing, sound to this third LP from Alex Valentine. It has a nice, easy beat and a sound that goes hand in hand with the lyric 'All I wanna do is lie here with you.' It's a surprisingly short, but sweet, opening and moves quickly into Trapdoor.
With echoes of Paul Simon and Elliot Smith the bittersweet, pleasancy continues unabated. Valentine has a knack for creating strong and instant melodies, all wrapped around his suitably emotive and pop vocals. Sing a Happy Song sounds like a distant cousin of You Can Call Me Al.
This album is definitely entirely focused on the subject of love, unlike similarly titled albums that seem to amble all over the place, there's a definite presence felt on this record, never more so than on Ghost where Valetine sings; 'You haunt my heart'. But he manages the tricky alchemy of crafting something heart-broken and sing-a-long-able, which, in better times, might mark this as the pop record of the year.
Tangled Up in You flirts with alt-country and has some delightful little musical flourishes, as Valentine successfully shakes off the shackles of being pegged a singer-songwriter and marks himself out as just a great musician. There's a clear difference between the broken honesty of Valentine in stark comparison to the faux-emotion of his contemporaries, One Way Ticket at times feels almost painfully honest, and it's fortunate that something as whimsical and light as Golden Valley Girl follows it, else the album would be in serious danger of becoming genuinely upsetting! But that's part of this record appeal, its total honesty. Like Eels Electro Shock Blues this may be occassionally difficult listening, in a strictly emotional sense, especially for those with broken hearts.
The Widow Swan is a haunting number, tinged with a Celtic feel, probably a side-effect of Valentine's move from Camden to the Welsh valleys, and it sits well against his more American influences heard on the following track Born in a Submarine.
Towards the album's close there a few so-so tracks, but only in the sense that they blur into the background rather than outright disgust! And there are still flashes of Valentine's earlier smarts hidden away, in amongst the slightly bland Swoon is half an excellent chorus and a nice, subdued harmonica. The record ends with the bittersweet track Old Man, which - as it should on that rare thing, a well crafted album - closes this set of songs perfectly with its refrain of 'I was a young boy when I met you girl, now I'm an old, old man.'
Clocking in at around half an hour this is a relatively short album (as the title suggests), with Valentine sometimes denying himself a return to some particularly excellent choruses that seem to be begging for one last hurrah. But this doesn't sour or strip their impact as some of the finest and most heart-wrenching/uplifting pop songs so far this year.