Rating – 2.5/5
The Sad Song Co. is Nigel Powell (formerly of Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls) and returns this month with his latest album “Saudade” which is due to be released on 22nd Jan 2021, but is preceded by the latest single “My Saccharine” which arrives just before on the 15th.
Saudade means missing in English (saved you a Google) and it’s 11 tracks of a lock down album. In a very complete sense. What does this mean? Primarily it has been written, recorded, played and mixed entirely by Powell. Secondarily (that’s sure not a word) it deals with freedom and personal discovery. This is clearly lockdown centric as we’ve spent far too much of the last 12 months stuck in our own heads pining to be outside.
Rather than pick out the single and then do the rest of the album, how about we take a journey through the whole thing from start to finish? After all, the beginning is a very good place to start and we at Faultline Social are not above taking advice from a woman who can fly using an umbrella.
Handily for the forgetful or the pedantic the first track on the album Saudade is called: Saudade.
Good. It starts a bit Erik Satie to be honest. Very clean piano, simple and straightforward. This blends with jazz drumming and the track takes a more modern feel. The overriding melody line is taken up by this pitch bending synth thing, which I’m sorry to say is a little too discordant for the track. It takes something away from the background which is very enjoyable as is noticed when the noise goes away. Sadly it comes back. On the second departure there is a much busier framework but still in the same melodic vein. An admirable if flawed intro.
These Tears Won’t Cry Themselves is the second track. Vocal! Ok so it’s even more paired back musically here. Piano again but with guitar interlaced this time. The vocal style is sort of Geddy Lee mixed with Guy Garvey if that’s entirely plausible. There is a definite poppier element when the chorus hits but it’s still got this semblance of mild panic and foreboding that runs through the song. It’s sort of a strange effort but there is a sausage roll name check which definitely gives it some bonus points. And the 8 bit audio interlude which is sadly so quick you might miss it.
This is absolutely not a run of the mill by the numbers sort of thing.
Track 3, Hold, rips straight in there with some blues slide guitar. Not what I’d have laid a bet on happening but I can’t say I’m disappointed. Vocal is much better in this track. Far more depth, power and dare I say it, class. It’s got a whole Crowded House feel to it which is, to clarify, a good thing. Hold is about being on hold, funnily enough, but also in a sense of being paused by a person in real life as much as in a telecommunication setting. “She’s on the other line” suggests that the love interest is currently preoccupied. Good at being loving but not being loved is the pithiest rendition of unrequited love I think I’ve ever heard. And I’ve got my teenage diaries somewhere so that’s saying something. I wouldn’t want to overstate things on only track 3 but this has righted the path or corrected the course. Absolutely worth checking out and an improvement over the preceding efforts.
Track 4 is Hastings out of season.
Nothing is quite as depressing as a British seaside town when it’s out of season, all shut up, locked away, and not supposed to be looked at yet; so I’m going to wager this is a slightly more downbeat effort. Yep.
The slightly wallowy vocal of These Tears Won’t Cry Themselves is back which is a shame as the slightly more robust effort on Hold definitely gives it a better account of itself. In listing the visible scars of a dead winter by the sea it’s not helping itself in the happiness stakes, but this is an album that delves into the love that is unrequited so it’s by definition not to be a sweeping, uplifting, power ballad laden jaunt. We get to watch everyone die, apart from those who get to watch us die. Yikes. Ok, batten down the hatches here people. Wait, hold the phone, put samaritans on hold, we’ve got a reprieve. At about a minute and a half it lifts and we get a nice rolling pace of rhythm that is like a train taking us out of the depressing shit hole. I’ve not been to Hastings. I’m just going off this portrayal and it is off season. We’ll give it a break.
Properly good way to end this track. Great bait and switch.
Track 5 Makarska Sunset, 25th May 2018. No honestly all of that is the title. I’m not writing all that everytime. So Makarska begins again at the piano, but backed from the off with ethereal, floating synths. Beautifully done to be honest. There’s definite musical chops to this album, especially considering it’s a one man band operation from start to finish. At 58 seconds this is a mid album interlude and nothing more but what it does is perfectly what an interlude is for.You’re supposed to hate them but this one I would defy you to hate. Or not it’s up to you but it’s a beautiful little vignette.
Track 6 – Away Till Christmas Morning.
Erm. Ok. A Christmas song? On an album? Fuck off. Right so maybe it’s not entirely a proper Christmas song. It kind of does the East 17 thing by adding bells into a song that bears little resemblance to an actual Christmas song and could well have been released at any time.
This takes it a bit further with the piano and the, ahem, slightly Cliff Richard vocal. I’m sorry.
No, wait, ok it’s pretty much a full on Christmas song now, it’s like a nativity song the music teacher writes for the kids to use. On a normal album. Yeesh. So for someone on their own Christmas is a tough time. Getting over a relationship maybe it’s even harder. Especially after the Covid ruined effort of 2020 but this is a bit much. No it’s entirely too much. It’s so out of keeping with the rest of the album I’ve no idea why this seemed like a good idea. At all.
Deserted by Every God. Track 7. Beginning with all the bonhomie of a winter funeral with a more than slight Ultravox Vienna tinge to it. Great. 80s keyboard, synths and sound effects with a monotone vocal. Original it’s not. The actual melody refrain isn’t awful, it’s just this track seems to use the only thing that wasn’t on the christmas effort, which was a proper 80s cliche.
I can’t say the New Wave depression vibe is any more fitting on the album than a christmas song was but I guess this is what happens when you “write the theme tune sing the theme tune”. There’s no one else in the room to tell you to stop.
Track 8 – The upcoming single My Saccharine. Powell explains this one with:
“I had the sole word ‘saccharine’ written in my lyrics notebook, and that immediately sparked off thoughts of my last relationship, and the happiness it brought me, but how undermining it is to keep thinking about it. Or possibly it’s about being addicted to sherbet lemons. You decide.”
I’m not going to take issue with a frankly solid confectionary choice, though I will take issue with one sole word being written in a lyrics notebook. Especially as essentially esoteric as saccharine. It’s sweetly melodic and more upbeat. Which is good. But it’s genuinely referencing teeth. Which is kind of weird. It is supposed to be a sweet play on how he can’t taste anything without the love he’s lost but the references and lyrics are more cringe than I think he was aiming at. If it’s self deprecatingly so then I’ve missed the joke and I perhaps feel I won’t be the only one to do so. Not a horror show musically by any means but lyrically it does tend to the ridiculous more than the sublime. With all the route canal pain that you bring? Honestly? I don’t want to play the obvious card with all the dentist jokes flying about but this is a bit like pulling teeth.
9 – Feeding.
This begins with lots of conflicting noise, scratchy drum samples, phone beep keys, distorted vocals. Then it gets at once louder and more annoying. I understand this might be a soundscape of the mind under the pressure of loneliness, loss and lockdown but do we need to hear it? Forever? Feels like it to be honest.
10 – Lighthouse Piano intro again. Sedate, calmer, genuinely good. Vocally the whole album has a whole bared soul feel which is honest. It has a sense of integrity but on the tenth track it’s building up a sense of too much information. The brief interludes of something with a bit of another emotion, maybe anger, maybe a bit of fight, or some sort of spine are too infrequent.
Lighthouse does end with some piano power chords thrashed out in triumph or anger but it’s a little too little, and a lot too late.
11 – Sine Qua Non
This one means essential condition, or something that is absolutely necessary. A bit of an unfortunate joke considering, but a brave choice of a track title to end things with. As a track it’s a bit more of electronic piano with a higher tempo than we’ve had in many places. Again it’s not without the plumbed depths of despair interspersed with it’s heavy, gloomy chords. The lack of vocals I think helps. The anonymity it gives, despite it obviously being on the same album, helps lift it away from the embarrassing over share situation that pervades the whole effort.
I can’t help seeing this album as someone you meet in a waiting room (it’s going to have to be the dentist isn’t it) that strikes up a conversation despite every social indicator that one is not on the cards. Not only do they turn the five minutes you have to wait into a sensation of it being half an hour, they also manage to tell you things that you wouldn’t even know about your best friend.
Finally as you bid them farewell to go into the treatment room the dental hygienist would whisper to you almost conspiratorially “he can play the piano a bit you know”.
Review by Jim Clinch