Every so often a record comes along that captures you completely unaware. No media hype, no big hit single, no ‘guerrilla gigs’ on the Jubilee Line etc. Just a quiet, unassuming little record just sat there waiting to unleash its magic upon you, confident that the power of great songs will win your heart.
Ben Gunstone’s Songs From The Corner Of The Room is that type of record. I confess that I’d not heard of Mr Gunstone before this album, but a quick search reveals that he’s from Wessex, and has previously written some songs with former Morrissey collaborator Alain Whyte. What this doesn’t prepare you for though is the sheer excellence of Gunstone’s songs.
A quick glance at the tracklisting will tell you what sort of frame of mind Gunstone was in when he wrote these songs: Wish You Were Her, You’re Not The Person That I Used To Know and I Can’t Stand The Thought Of You With Anyone Else would all suggest that this isn’t going to be the happiest of trips. And indeed it’s not – there’s bitterness, heartbreak and guilt aplenty here, but Gunstone’s trick is to make none of this remotely depressing.
Those three tracks are some of the highlights of the album in fact. You’re Not The Person is a bitterly honest dissection of a breakdown of a relationship torn apart by the ambition of one partner (“I remember when all you ever you wanted was the simple things in life”). Set to a Dylan-esque acoustic strum, it’s one of the best ‘break-up’ songs you’ll ever hear. Wish You Were Her and I Can’t Stand The Thought bookend the album perfectly, the former kicking off the album beautifully while the latter being a heartbreaking final plea for a lover to return.
It’s not all misery and folky laments though. Lust Has Turned To Lust has big, epic guitar chords and a chorus so swooping and majestic that it brings to mind Suede at their peak, Day By Day is a misanthropic marvel (“I’m surprised that more people don’t want to destroy the human race”) while Valediction is just insane. A straight reading of a poem it features what sounds like a music hall song in the background while all the while Gunstone faithfully intones the verse. It really shouldn’t work, but it does.
It is welcome flashes of eccentricity like this that make Songs From The Corner Of A Room so listenable. Honest, quirky, at times heart-wrenchingly sad, it’s all very English but not so much so that Gunstone becomes a parody of himself. Rather, like the best of those other English figures – Morrissey, Ed Harcourt, Badly Drawn Boy – he stamps his own personality all over these songs.
So the next time you’re seduced by the promise of an outrageously overhyped band or come across a group of wannabe punks performing ‘spontaneous’ gigs in the middle of the pavement just remember that someone, somewhere is doing things the traditional way – and doing them damn well.