Sunday, August 23, 2009

Singing about dark times

Is Greg Cartwright getting into Bertolt Brecht? This new Reigning Sound album (the first studio album in four years), Love and Curses, contains regular sad bastard Greg Cartwright songs plus two kinda different political songs. His songs with the Reigning Sound tend to be sold-his-soul to Holland-Dozier and Satan perfect pop with these brutal romantic lyrics. The melodies alone could keep you up at night examining your life if they get stuck in your head.

I think they actually ratcheted up the brutal on the love songs this time around but then there are these two: "Stick Up for Me" and "Banker and a Liar." A few other songs on the album aren't quite about love, "Polly Anne" for instance, is just a portrait (in a dark palette) of a free spirit. But "Stick Up for Me" is entirely different. It's by a sixties-era psych-rock band called Glass Sun. Cartwright makes it into the kind of convincing working-class anthem that Bruce Springsteen never quite managed to write. Then "Banker and a Liar" has that gypsy-punk sound I expect from World/Inferno Friendship Society or Tom Waits, which is where my Brecht suspicions are hailing from. It's also better than anything I could compare it to except Brecht. It's a wake up call directed at someone who is trying to gain the world for the price of their soul. The lyrics point out that, not only was this a lousy deal to make, but that the world isn't keeping up its end of the bargain.

The "political song" is supposed to be a very inadvisable proposition, but you wouldn't know it listening to Love and Curses. I think it's because, while these two aren't love songs, they are full of love, and it's the same kind of love that's in all these other haunting songs. So, they belong. A "political song" isn't risky at all if you mean it.

As for the dip into old world-style balladry, maybe Cartwright's usual hooks-and-heartbreak sound didn't suit his thoughts on corruption and moral decay outside of romantic love. Although I'd like to hear a song about entrenched social inequality that sounds like it was written for the Shangri-Las. (Wait, sorry, that's "Leader of the Pack.")

I feel a little bad for trying to dissect Love and Curses because, taken as a whole, it's such a complete musical picture. Kind of a Hans Christian Andersen storybook for grown-ups. I would absolutely tell people to run out and get this if they haven't heard the Reigning Sound before. And also if they have.

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