Man, I felt like a Numan

The cover of Gary Numan’s 1979 single Cars

It is odd how two events from seemingly opposite ends of the arc of life can become connected after a vast amount of time has passed.

In the late 1970s and early 80s as one year segued into the next, my parents would take my brother, two sisters and I to the East Neuk of Fife to stay with our Auntie Jean, my mum’s best friend, and her three children, who were all around the same age as we were. (Whether it was in the mustard tank known as a Volvo 240, a thin-as-tin Renault 4 or a rented Ford Escort when the tank gave up the ghost, driving from Largs to Fife felt like a marathon to us. Lord knows what it felt like to our folks, having to put up with four bickering smart alecs under the age of 15.)

At our destination, a fisherman’s cottage in Cellardyke, just beyond Anstruther, the adults would gather in the living room and knock back after-dinner tipples while the seven of us were busy being whippersnappers elsewhere in the house (the attic was my hangout of choice).

Perhaps in an effort to cultivate any latent impresario tendencies in us children, at least once we were tasked with putting on a gang show-type event for the adults, who could number five or six depending on who’d dropped by for a blether and a heat from the fire. Red-faced on bonhomie and bevvy, they weren’t the hardest audience we’d ever faced, to be honest.

Being the youngest, my turn inevitably, and in retrospect quite rightly, drew a greater degree of attention than the contributions of my fellow performers. Most memorable of all was the end of 1979 and start of 1980, when, obsessed with scowling sub-Bowie electronic pop star Gary Numan, I doused my face and hair in Brut talcum powder (in homage to the look the unsmiling synth-rocker adopted on the cover of the album Replicas), used the handle of a hairbrush as a mic and delivered a near-flawless impression of the Tory pseudo-android performing his No1 hit Cars.

I was eight years old and smitten by anything that involved four wheels. The combustion engine was a given in all cases, the smell of petrol then, as now, intoxicating to me. Such base feelings would be beneath my ice-cool hero, however. He, I was certain, had in mind a car from the future, a machine that was sleek and clean and silent and fast.

Well, I drove that car last week. It isn’t sleek but it is very clean (zero emissions), pretty much silent and dizzyingly fast from point to point. It’s a BMW i3 and if it weren’t so damn ugly (and I had a spare 30 grand) I’d buy one.

BMW’s i3 electric vehicle. Not pretty, is it?

The principal issue facing our Gary at the wheel of an i3, I reckon, would be keeping a straight face as he tickled the accelerator and felt the torque whoosh through his cerebral cortex. You don’t see many surly cyborgs grinning from ear to ear, do you?

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

Review – Boris: Dear (Sargent House)


Dear is not an album for the faint of heart. It is, however, a long-player for those with a thirst for everything from shoegazing to drone rock via pie-eyed experimentalism and uber-rock melodrama.

Running through a record released in the Tokyo-based trio’s 25th year of existence, as per the flood of previous Boris releases, is a discipline that favours analogue recording, minimal overdubbing and, most significantly, a fanatical worship of excess. Volume, fuzz (rivers of it), sustain, dynamics, emphasis (they tour with an orchestral gong), song length – you name it, Boris take it outside, anchor one end to a bollard and the other to a truck’s towbar and floor the accelerator.

Incredibly, there’s nothing po-faced about Dear, whether the feral title track, the blood-thickening fog of DOWN (Domination of Waiting Noise) or The Power, a song whose title succinctly nails the sonic code of Boris.

This a band equally in thrall to flesh-and-blood heroes – sludge metal legends Melvins and Black Sabbath, for example – and those powered by 240 volts (Orange, Matamp and Sunn amplifiers, mostly). It shows, with Dear ultimately hymning the possibilities of heavy music as much as the raw materials with which they are created.

Watch the video for Absolutego from Dear below:

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

Review – Circle: Terminal (Southern Lord)

Having amassed a staggering canon of recorded work in their various guises and side projects, Finnish loons Circle issue long-player number 40-odd on the label run by one half of drone druids Sunn O))), Greg Anderson. There isn’t a wasted moment on this six-track excursion into the outer reaches of fuzzed-out stoner rock, and one hopes Anderson’s cult renown inspires even a fraction of his audience to lend this album an ear.

Terminal can be boiled down to a handful of elements, namely supreme guitar riffs, unwavering fealty to repetition and the avoidance of interference in the form of virtuosity. Thus the title cut motors along like Ron Asheton jamming with Mogwai, and Saxo kicks off with monged chanting before careening into territory first mapped by Amon Duul and Magma, Mika Räattö capping the whole bonkers confection with a vocal any of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands would have been proud of.

It’s not all OTT rock, though. Kill City leaves more Stoogisms behind to float away on a feathery jam which recalls the equally recommended Live at Suomi Finland album by Circle alter ego Pharaoh Overlord. Blissful and beguiling in equal measure.

Listen to Kill City from Terminal here:

Buy Terminal by Circle here.

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

Senses working overtime: reflections of a newbie motorcycle rider

Immeasurably more than driving, motorcycle riding is a sensory experience. It’s not that you gain consciousness at the lights having undergone intense hallucinations the likes of which even Timothy Leary might have balked at. It’s more the case that even the most cursory of journeys can send your nostrils twitching or your peepers widening.

The sights you see from the vantage point of a motorcycle saddle span the glorious and the godawful. As the late author Robert Pirsig wrote in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “Through [a] car window everything you see is just more TV … It is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone … You’re in the scene, not just watching it.”

While this means you get a new perspective on rural landscapes, you also get a new perspective on human behaviour, especially when it comes to people using smartphones at the wheel. Texting, watching videos, making calls – I’ve seen it all.

The nose takes a fair battering too when you’re on a bike. If it’s not a cloud of camomile and walnut-flavour vapour billowing from the driver’s window of a premium German car it’s a lungful of illicit smoke floating from the cabin of a Fiat Ducato on a Friday afternoon, or a whopping belch of diesel fumes from the exhaust pipes of a bus (providing there’s any left in the tank. In my experience most of the diesel that buses take on at the depot ends up on the road).

Further thrills are to be had when passing kebab shops, fishmongers, sewage treatment plants and rubbish dumps. It’s even better when you’re forced to stop outside said establishments.

While modern cars all come with suspension so soft you can’t tell when you pass over a cattle grid, motorbikes are not so forgiving. This means your sense of touch is heightened, which in turn informs how involved you become in the practical business of steering the motorcycle, which in turn makes getting from A to B an active pursuit and not, like 99% of car journeys, a passive experience.

Every rut and bump or change of camber can upset the balance of the machine, as can ironworks and road markings. The rider who can find the least disturbed surface will inevitably have the most pleasant ride. You know you’re making progress when you begin to manoeuvre the bike between paint and manholes silkily and almost unconsciously.

As for your ears, like your nose they are subjected to epic levels of abuse, mainly though not exclusively in the form of wind noise. It is, however, a microscopic price to pay for the relentlessly alluring roar/grunt/burble/whistle of whatever exhaust you have stuck on your machine (only squares leave the original pipes on, dude).

All of which leaves one sense unexplored. While it’s fleeting – and the fact it’s required at all is perhaps an indictment of the way most of us choose to lead our lives – it’s at the very heart of the motorcycling experience, and always will be: the taste of freedom. Now that’s a trip.

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

A spin through Italy’s Motor Valley, where supercars are born

It is not an exclusively Italian trait, but spend any time in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and you soon learn that deification is a popular pastime. Instead of the vulgar creeds of football and celebrity, however, the religions that enchant the denizens of the corridor linking Piacenza with Rimini are altogether more refined: good food and righteous cars.

The gods of the former are, in the main, pasta (handmade), parmesan and balsamic vinegar, while dominating the latter doctrine are such familiar names as Enzo Ferrari and Ferruccio Lamborghini. So revered are these two that you might imagine they led lives entirely free from moral blemish, yet after surveying and savouring the motoring creations that bear their name – and which wouldn’t have existed without them – you forgive the more hyperbolic aspects of the tourist “experience” attached to them.

Modena is the de facto capital of Motor Valley, as the tourist chiefs have branded it: here you will find Ferrari, Maserati and Pagani, while just outside the city limits you’ll find Lamborghini. Of the four, Pagani cares not for the attentions of the hoi polloi and Maserati has no official museum or factory tour, but the other two marques have created predictably high-quality tourist experiences.

It’s at a farm outside Modena that I get my first exposure to a platoon of indescribably handsome Italian vehicles. Built by Umberto Panini (of the sticker dynasty), Hombre is a quirky operation that, on one hand, produces organic Parmigiano-Reggiano and, on the other, houses the late publisher’s collection of cars, motorbikes and tractors.

A rare Maserati motorcycle in the car and motorcycle collection at Hombre, near Modena

Maseratis – polished to within an inch of their lives – form the bulk of the collection, and being a child of the 1970s it’s the Bora, Khamsin and Merak that bring me out in a sweat, but the 3500 GT and Ghibli Coupe are impossibly handsome too. There are also examples of the short-lived Maserati line of motorcycles on the ground floor next to a staircase that leads to a row of lovingly fettled classic two-wheelers, among them models by Moto Guzzi, Ducati, BSA, Norton, Ariel and Triumph. There’s even a Scott Super Squirrel from the 1920s.

A Maserati Bora at the car and motorcycle collection at Hombre near Modena

Unlike collections closer to home which we won’t name, here you are free to wander among the treasures away from the prying eyes of CCTV. Astonishingly, entry is free, as is parking.

A few miles east of Modena and a few hours later I find myself on a guided tour of the Lamborghini factory in Sant’Agata Bolognese. As we are led through the various stages of assembly, first for the V10 Huracan then the V12 Aventador, it’s quite clear the company has come an indescribably long way from its founder’s origins in the manufacture of agricultural machinery.

A characteristically subtle Lamborghini Aventador outside the marque’s factory at Sant’Agata Bolognese

Conspicuously clean and tidy and operating to a meticulous schedule whereby the vehicles spend exactly 37 minutes at each stage on the production line, this is more laboratory than assembly line, making 11 Huracans and five Aventadors every day, Monday to Friday. That’s correct: Monday to Friday. So exclusive are Lambos that the cars are built to order and the chassis are put together by parent company Audi in Germany. This means the assembly line staff can work from 8am to 5pm, five days a week, with the factory closing at weekends. The perks aren’t too bad either: while they don’t qualify for a staff discount, workers are given the use of a Huracan for the duration of their wedding day. The guide laughs when asked how many times an employee can take advantage of the offer.

Next door to the factory is the Lamborghini museum, where you’ll see the first car to wear the marque’s fighting bull badge, the understated 350 GT, which Ferruccio Lamborghini was prompted to create after a disagreement with Enzo Ferrari about the Ferrari 250 GTO he had bought. But it’s the Miura, arguably the first supercar, which takes the breath away. Designed by Marcello Gandini, who would go on to create the outlines of the Miura’s unapologetically futuristic successor, the Countach, as well as those of another Top Trumps ace card, the Lancia Stratos, there were fewer than 800 Miuras made from 1966 to 1972. If you can find one, it’ll cost you several million pounds.

The Lamborghini Urus SUV prototype has 24-inch wheels. Yes: 24-inch

Less pleasing on the eye is the prototype of a car Lamborghini is placing a lot of faith in and building a new factory for – the Urus, a 4.9m-long SUV. The mere idea of the Urus seems anathema to the marque’s ethos, but money talks and the market research says more and more very wealthy people want very big vehicles in which to gad about. It’ll reputedly top out at 205mph; in my book, anybody who wants to drive an SUV at such a speed is welcome to throw their money away. Also worth mentioning is the fact the prototype has 24-inch wheels (305/35/R24 to be precise). I endeavour to price a full set online but draw a blank.

Running upstairs at the museum until October is an exhibition that will appeal to fans of Formula 1 before it became a sanitised snorefest: Ayrton Senna – The Last Night. Here you can feast your eyes on all the Brazilian’s race cars, including two Formula Fords and his Toleman TG184, as well as the McLaren with a Lamborghini V12 which Senna test drove but never raced. Again, you can get as close to the exhibits as you like short of sitting on them.

Back up the road in Modena it’s time to see what Ferrari has to offer. The answer is not one but two museums. One, dedicated to the company and its creations, is in Maranello, also the location of the Ferrari factory and the F1 team HQ (Ferrari’s test track, Fiorano, is nearby). Here in Modena, however, the motivation behind the Enzo Ferrari Museum appears to be ensuring if not the deification of the car maker’s founder then at least his canonisation.

The Enzo Ferrari Museum, Modena

Firstly you can saunter through the house Ferrari grew up in and the officina or workshop of Ferrari’s father, Alfredo, who died when his son was 18. Ferrari persuaded his widowed mother to sell the building to fund his racing career, and many decades later the company leases it from its owner, who (understandably) refuses to sell it back. If ogling engines is your thing you’ll like the exhibits, but if, like me, you can’t tell a piston from a pulley then you’d do well to march over to the hyper-modern museum itself.

As with Umberto Panini’s Maserati collection, it’s here that you can behold from all angles some of the most elegant objects ever designed by man: a 330 GTC Speciale (one of four), the 166 Mille Miglia, a Dino 206 GT and a 246 GT. After these the more modern models – everything from the 288 GTO to the LaFerrari via the F12tdf – seem rather crass, which perhaps explains why the modern equivalents of celebrated Ferraristi such as Peter Sellers and John Lennon, depicted in a film projected on to a wall of the museum, include Justin Bieber and Gordon Ramsay.

A Ferrari F12tdf at the Enzo Ferrari Museum, Modena

Give me a Dino 246 GT any day, or a 330 GTC Speciale. In fact, make it a Bora. No, scratch that. Give me a Countach.

That’s the effect Motor Valley has on you. It places you at the heart of automotive utopia. Even if only for a few hours, it’s a very nice place to be.

Getting there

British Airways ( has return flights from Glasgow to Bologna via London Heathrow from £232.

Where to stay

Central Park Modena ( has double rooms from €135 per night.

Where to visit

Umberto Panini Motor Museum, Modena

Free entry. Visit

Museo Automobili Lamborghini and Automobili Lamborghini, Modena

Guided tour and museum entry costs €75 (adults) and €50 (children). Visit

Museo Enzo Ferrari, Modena

Entry costs €16 (adults) and €5 (children). Visit

Other information


Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

Much Corrado about nothing

Never having met anyone called Golf, or MX-5, or 320i Touring for that matter, it is cheering finally to come across a person who shares a name with my charabanc. The fact I have just spent six hours getting from Scotland to the heart of Italy means it is doubly uplifting, since I’m tired and in need of a boost.

“Aha – very good!” he says, looking at my iPhone as I hold it before him, his broad smile the only thing ruining an otherwise peachy impression of a dwarf Bryan Ferry circa Avalon crossed with Lou Diamond Phillips’s dad. “You are a Corrado,” I have just said, before pointing at the screen, “and this is a Corrado – my Corrado!”

It breaks the ice.

Into his car I slump before we haul ass out of Bologna airport and head to the small city of Reggio-Emilia. This is my second visit to Italy in six weeks, having been to Tuscany for my brother-in-law’s wedding at the end of April before hiring a car and visiting Venice, Treviso and Bologna.

As usual, driving and motorcycle riding are never far from my thoughts on this June afternoon, and with nobody in the Jaguar XF Sportbrake but me and Signor Corrado I fumble metaphorically in my pockets and locate, amid the fluff, something which looks very much like The Banter, or at least Man Chat.

“Why did you buy a British car?” I ask. Signor Corrado’s response would fill this page, but the short answer is he didn’t want a big German estate like everybody else, so he bought a big British estate instead.

We natter about Fiat, about Alfa Romeo, about the dreaded Dacia. I tell Signor Corrado that during my last visit I was initially unenthused by the predominant driving style of his countrymen, which amounts to veering this way and that and never indicating, a system which is rapidly gaining ground in the UK.

At this point one-third of the Jag is in the middle lane while the other two-thirds are in the fast lane, as they have been for half a mile. We are a gnat’s eyelash away from the Fiat 500 in front (90% of vehicles in Italy are Fiat 500s) and travelling at 85mph.

Pressing hard on an imaginary brake pedal with my right foot, I tell my chauffeur that my misgivings about Italian drivers soon gave way to approval for three reasons.

Firstly, everyone strays between lanes in precisely the same way, meaning you can predict how other motorists will behave. Secondly, the lack of indicating is entirely consistent – nobody indicates, not even nuns, so you quickly stop getting angry about it. Thirdly, everybody is trying to reach their destination as quickly as possible, whereas in Britain there is every chance of getting stuck behind a retired librarian in a Kia Picanto with a passion for hypermiling. If not swift, progress here is at least brisk most of the time.

As soon as you accept these conditions, driving in Italy is a cinch, I tell Signor Corrado. “Hmm,” he replies inattentively, absorbed by the complexities of his Bluetooth phone system, two wheels in the fast lane, mere feet from the car in front, barrelling along at 80mph.

I look out of the window across the plain and breathe deeply. When in Rome …

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

Review – Richard Dawson: Peasant (Domino)


IF Geordie acoustic guitarist and writer of rambling, bug-eyed modern folk songs Richard Dawson has yet to appear on your radar then I humbly suggest you remedy the situation, for his is a world which emanates positive vibes and off-the-scale feats of imaginative ambition.

Picture a voice somewhere between Peter Gabriel and Gruff Rhys, a feral yet virtuosic finger-picking guitar style and an approach to songwriting that calls to mind the whimsy of Kevin Ayers and the acoustic enquiries of such Scottish contemporaries as RM Hubbert and Sound of Yell.

Now transfer that to a suite of psychedelic songs set in north-eastern England in the early middle ages with one-word titles such as Masseuse, Scientist, Beggar and Prostitute, and tell me you’re not confused.

In simple terms, within Peasant you’ll find unspeakable acoustic beauty a la Jim O’Rourke (Soldier), a sprawling feast of choral call and response (Ogre) and a bottomless well of melodic feints, lyrical quirks and refreshingly unpolished performances from Dawson and co-pilots Rhodri Davies and Angharad Davies.

It’s a bonkers, messy, life-affirming stew. You’ll be up for seconds, guaranteed.

Watch the video for Ogre here:

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

Extended review – Oxbow: Thin Black Duke (HydraHead)

Oxbow: Thin Black Duke

There are times when a group or an artist releases an album so instantly complete and compelling that there appears to be no conceivable way in which they or anybody else will ever surpass it. Only the very gifted or the very lucky find themselves in such circumstances, and they are few in number.

In recent years These New Puritans set an unfeasibly high bar for themselves with Field Of Reeds, while Sunn O))) did likewise with Monoliths And Dimensions. Ditto Holy Other, whose majestic Held remains understandably his only full-length record. After all, what would be the sense in trying to better it?

The inevitable consequence of scraping the sky is that no matter how inventive, innovative or imaginative future works might be, they can never match the impact of their lauded predecessors.

Where San Francisco’s Oxbow differ from the above examples is that while Thin Black Duke, only their seventh album since forming in 1988, is a record its makers are highly unlikely ever to eclipse, if there is a group who could defy such colossal odds then, on this evidence, it is Oxbow. They sound equally like a band that has discussed and agreed upon every moment of every song and one that barely knows what note comes next.

This is a record that takes rock dynamics and tropes ­– drums, bass, guitar; verse-chorus-verse – and puts them in a vice. From the opening Cold And Well-lit Place to closer The Finished Line, the four musicians turn the lever steadily and assiduously until the very substance of the record is fit to collapse in on itself. Structures compress and contract, expand and elongate. Eugene Robinson’s vocal performances flit between manic and measured. The punk rock impulse that runs throughout becomes distorted – never diluted ­– by elements of metal, prog, jazz and, with the addition of orchestral parts scored by guitarist Niko Wenner, symphonic music.

If Thin Black Duke is unclassifiable, it is also unexpected that in 2017 a group formed at a time when post-punk, post-hardcore and noise rock was incubating a welter of innovative American bands should have the motivation and the energy to look for and discover an ultima Thule of rock music, a hitherto undiscovered piece of land in a world everyone thought had been mapped to within an inch of its life.

Guitar music of this stripe ceased to develop years ago as its exponents succumbed to creative stagnancy, caved in to financial necessity or simply grew up. The Jesus Lizard, Lungfish, Drive Like Jehu and many, many more: once upon a time you couldn’t move for crooked guitar music that entertained and energised, challenged and charmed in equal measure. While Thin Black Duke is categorically not a throwback to American underground rock in the late 20th century, it grazes on similar pastures and shares a disdain for torpor and a hunger for beauty amid cacophony with the best practitioners of it.

From the off the fluent guitar, demented vocals and Morricone-flavoured symphonic layers of Cold And Well-Lit Place seem like a puzzle designed to confuse, but stick with it and the dissonant trails and melodic motifs within Ecce Homo begin to serve as cloths with which to wipe clean your ears and acclimatise them to an atmosphere of courageousness last heard on Pony Express Record by Shudder To Think.

Perhaps as a counterpoint to the relative straightforwardness of Wenner’s riffs, which veer as close as comfort will allow to 1980s rock, on A Gentleman’s Gentleman Robinson alternates between the voice of a ranting loon, speed-whispering through the opaque lyric, and that of a drunk preacher, hectoring menacingly as piano expands the palette and contributes a sense of drama and disquiet.

Letter Of Note, however, is where you really start to be unsettled. Almost four minutes into a seemingly routine slice of alternative rock, albeit one with wonky orchestral flourishes and topped by perhaps Robinson’s most conventional performance of the album, Wenner and bass player Dan Adams jump off the path and lead the group down an alley of proggy, plucked weirdness, which serves as a cue for Robinson to leap into the limpid pool of red-eyed insanity and the orchestral players to spin off on a quest to uncover the most dissonant colours possible. It’s exhausting.

As a welcome contrast the first 30 seconds of Host are as stripped down as the preceding five minutes are multi-layered, exhibiting a yen for simplicity that wouldn’t be out of place in the Shellac For Dummies hardback. The song itself takes flight halfway in, throwing off its alt-rock cloak to deliver a cathartic uppercut as Robinson proclaims: “Love, lust, God, end/Debatable points all.”

The Upper finds Oxbow abandoning rock altogether, favouring instead a piano-led waltz beneath Robinson’s spoken vocal until Wenner can hold back no longer and dives in with skronking and defiantly melodramatic guitar figures to mirror Robinson’s contribution. The penultimate Other People, however, both prefigures the comeliness of the ensuing finale and raises the noise rock levels to a new high, Wenner whammy-barring his Strat in unison with chimes, brass and strings. This is questing, heroically odd rock to gladden the ears of callow youths and jaundiced grown-ups.

Like all good things, though, Thin Black Duke has to come to an end. While beautiful, in large part due to Robinson’s echo-swathed falsetto, The Finished Line is harrowing in its desolation, the pace deathly, the orchestra pitched at extremes, until the calm which reigned at the song’s outset reappears. “Pointless, senseless, and now/Endless,” whispers Robinson as a fading guitar signal plummets to earth.

By rights no group should be peaking after 30 years of making music together, yet that is the situation in which Oxbow find themselves. Will they ever transcend Thin Black Duke? Such are the ideas and attention to detail on this record, you wouldn’t bet against them.

Watch the video for Cold And Well-lit Place below:

This article originally appeared on The Quietus website.

Review – Disco Inferno: In Debt (Rocket Girl)

Disco Inferno: In Debt (Rocket Girl, 2017)

Presumably named in jest, Disco Inferno were sensitive souls whose early-1990s experiments in deconstructing rock tropes and reassembling the components in new forms made them darlings of the weekly music papers. Alongside such peers as Bark Psychosis, Loop and late-period Talk Talk they breathed new life into the corpse of guitar music, inadvertently begetting post-rock in all its many guises while receiving precisely none of the spoils.

Comprising their debut LP Open Doors, Closed Windows and a clutch of vinyl-only releases, In Debt inevitably suffers on initial listening for its patina of unforgiving recording techniques so common for bands with limited funds at the time, the slew of cheap or hastily deployed effects failing to mask shortcomings in performance.

Persevere, however, and In Debt opens up like a bloom, providing clear context for the short-lived group’s ongoing legacy.

Across 17 tersely titled cuts – Emigre, Interference, Incentives – the group from the periphery of London outgrow influences such as Joy Division to point the way towards a future in which they would tilt fearlessly at bliss through a painterly use of spartan guitar (later augmented by sampling) welded to rhythmic adventurousness.

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

Review – Mark Mulcahy: The Possum In The Driveway (Mezzotint)

Mark Mulcahy: The Possum In The Driveway (Mezzotint, 2017)

Endorsements from such figures as Thom Yorke, Ryan Adams and Michael Stipe have yet to translate into significant success outwith the realm of critical acclaim for Mark Mulcahy, a singer-songwriter of rare vocal expressiveness and lyrical acuity.

If the release last year of the final long-player by his revered group Miracle Legion underlined an uncommon knack for kinked pop melodies then Mulcahy’s fifth solo album emphasises how durable that gift remains, given the gap of 21 years that separates them.

Bookended by ballads that could melt a heart of stone – the beatific opener Stuck On Something Else and the saxophone-smeared Geraldine – The Possum In The Driveway nevertheless has the power to disappoint, with ditties such as Catching Mice and Hollywood Never Forgives, however well-intended, merely coming across as flippant. Therein, you suspect, lies a clue as to Mulcahy’s continued presence on the margins.

That said, when you’re faced with songs as happy/sad as They Broke The Spell, you’re reminded of another great American outsider, Mark Eitzel, and the fact that biggest rarely means best.

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

Thoughts from the periphery