‘Andy White’ is not the best name for a performing musician. In onomatopoeic terms it would translate as ‘dull thud’. It’s a name more befitting of an English snooker player. As it turns out, a spoken word album by Stephen Hendry would provide a great deal more excitement than that offered by Songwriter, the 12th studio album by Belfast-born White.
‘Songwriter’ might have been intended as a nakedly unpretentious title, but to those equipped with cynical ears it’s anything but. The implied message is redolent of that carried by The Eagles‘ ‘Song Power’ T-shirts – an act perceived by many in the 1970s as a slyly anti-disco sentiment. For the 14 tracks on Songwriter aren’t pop songs – things that serve solely to entertain the listener and put a spring in one’s step – but rather ‘songs’: pieces of material created seemingly only to show reverence to established musical idioms.
On Faithful Heart White sings of the “poetry of innocence”, and that would appear to be what White’s aiming for throughout the album: big, heartfelt statements based on familiar imagery and a sense that the writer is harking back to an earlier, simpler age.
But that’s taking a very kind view of the album’s words. Place a pin in Songwriter’s lyric sheet and there’s a very strong chance you’ll stab a clich� straight in its lazy, shrivelled heart. On I Believe, White iterates those things in which he, er, believes. And what might they be, Andy? “There’s a time for everything”, “everything has its time” and, of course, “love songs”. Brilliant.
On When I Come Back, White describes his wishes should he be reincarnated. The results are spirit-sappingly predictable. Against the kind of maudlin musical backdrop that would be the perfect soundtrack to a Sunday evening ITV drama he sings, “When I come back I wanna hear / The Beatles for the first time…”. Andy, are you sure you wouldn’t want to re-live The London Boys‘ all-too-brief run of chart hits in the late ’80s? No?
All this might be tolerable were the words allied to memorable or even just pretty melodies. Those who (rightfully) adore Carole King‘s Tapestry will be familiar with the comforting balm offered by steadfastly ‘vanilla’ records. But Songwriter denies the listener these simple pleasures through its succession of dreary, rote melodies which offer absolutely no twists or turns to keep the those in its company amused.
It would, however, be false to claim that this is a work entirely without merit. The performances (by musicians drawn from The Be Good Tanyas and Neko Case‘s band) are sympathetic. The production is tastefully uncluttered. First And Discovery is really very pleasant indeed. But, overall, given the obscenely large mass of CDs currently cluttering the globe, there is no reason for this album to exist.
Survivors of traumatic near-death experiences will typically talk about how they’ve emerged with a deeper appreciation of those daily experiences they’d have previously dismissed as mundane. A listener who gets through Songwriter may undergo a comparable transformation. For this is a record so dull that you will never again undervalue the charms of Coldplay, Starsailor, David Gray or any other artist commonly dismissed as ‘boring’. It’s an achievement of sorts.