It’s been a remarkably busy year for Darren Hayman. First off there was the audacious January Songs project consisting of a song a day for the whole of the month, then former band Hefner‘s back catalogue was re-released and the remaining material from the Essex Arms sessions was gathered together. He’s been so busy that this entire review could easily be taken up with his recent achievements and projects. Most artists would use the remaining spare time as an opportunity to put their feet up, but instead we are treated to another release.
And we wouldn’t blame him for taking things easily. In November 2009 Hayman was mugged in a random attack leaving him with a fractured skull. The after-effects of this caused some deafness, and if that wasn’t enough for a recording artist, an aversion to loud, sharp noises. All of which makes his work rate seem even more impressive.
The Ship’s Piano is born from the understandable need to explore gentler music. In Hayman’s own words: “I kept imagining the sounds I wanted as round and smooth, like well-worn pebbles.” All of these songs are played on a small-scale piano colloquially referred to as a Ship’s Piano. The result is a quiet, contemplative disc that marries these simplistic melodies with a more direct lyrical style. There’s a sense of reconnection running throughout the album; one song’s chorus contains the lyric “I forgot how easy it is to hang out with you.”
The album kicks off with I Taught You How To Dance and Old House – both playful and infused with the wistful melancholy of Hayman’s vocals. Then comes the deceptively childlike candyfloss lullaby of Cuckoo. The brief instrumental Know Your Place is great and the slow gentle rambling of Take a Breather reminds us that the album’s insistence on a simple approach doesn’t make for shallow songs. The plan may be different this time around but there is still a welcome complexity hidden below the surface.
The album concludes with an emotional piece of imagination where Hayman sings the history of the eponymous Ship’s Piano. It’s difficult to suppress a tear as its fictitious history gradually unfolds and giving the instrument a personality of its own is a worthy acknowledgement of the ship’s piano’s integral contribution to the disc.
With little in the way of instrumentation and production tricks there’s a rich atmosphere of intimacy running through the album and it’s difficult not to take a shine to this no-nonsense approach. The Ship’s Piano doesn’t take you on the maritime journey you’d expect but rather to a late-night bar of romantic lost souls, the heartbroken and the bedraggled. This effective and warm album’s benefits should be felt further afield than as Hayman’s own therapy.