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J'ecoute de la musique de merde

English translation

So how come I'm posting my Best Album of January only at the beginning of April? Well, for a start I didn't manage to get hold of a copy straight off and then I'd been looking forward so much to this record (I posted 2 or 3 times in 2007 to say it was coming) that I preferred to take my time so as not to get carried away by either enthusiasm or disappointment.

With its title (A Wretched Sinner's Song), its length (nearly 68 minutes) and its division into 2 acts it would be easy to accuse Songdog's new album of pretension, but this would be to forget that Lyndon Morgans, the band's singer and leader, was a playwright before he took up music, and that unlike so many of his contemporaries he approaches that music with a certain ambition (he hopes one day to match the standards set by Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits), and an eminently laudable one.

The first act, Love Lust, opens with the magnificent "Ruben's Tattoo" and goes on to deal with the matter of love, whether it be via little vignettes of the supernatural ("Owls", "The Devil Needs You For His Squeeze") or taken from everyday life ("Crown Of Thorns", "A Prayer To Old Idols"). Man is bested by the devil (when he isn't one himself) and love seems sworn to damnation. Musically, the group has evolved well beyond the mix of alt-country and twee pop they started out with: stripped-down (essentially guitar and piano) but nevertheless complex arrangements, heightened in just the right places by touches of violin, banjo and mandolin, dark and melancholic, and perfectly calibrated to draw us in to the world the lyrics conjure.

The second act, Love Lost, deals, logically enough, with loves shipwrecked (A Wretched Sinner's Song) or run aground (She Lets Me In By The Back Door), a procession of failures, regrets and feelings only dimly-perceived. The songs aren't asking us to pity the characters they describe, but, like Arab Strap in their day (though without the humour) seek to show us life at its most ordinary. And there's always something beautiful or touching in even the most unsettling lines, like those that close the album:

"Now it's only disappointment keeps me holed up in this room,
But hell, I swam in disappointment inside my mother's womb,
Won't you drive me up the mountain and just let my wheel-chair roll,
'Cos the time for miracles is past"

and it's often thanks to Lyndon Morgans's voice, which ranges across the octaves without sacrificing its fragility, a voice which can be alternatively engaging, sad or mannered without ever overdoing it.

This, then, is a magnificent record that'll no doubt earn itself a high placing in my Best of 2008 List: it has, however, has some mixed reviews, having been particularly taken to task for its length. Yet there's nothing on this record it could really do without, and the tracks follow one another with an impeccable logic. It seems, in an age when too many 'consumers' --- and even critics --- are way too free with their MP3 players' 'skip' buttons, and when an album's --- or even an artist's --- lifespan is so short, that to make an album as ambitious as this is tantamount to suicide. However that may be, in my view, this is nigh-on a masterpiece.