The splendidly barking inlay artwork for Eugene Francis Jnr’s debut solo album is revealing. In a fantasy sequence many a progressive rock group would be proud of, Francis has emerged from the trunk of a tree seated on his trusty golden labrador, while in the background ominous clouds gather, and a power station belches out atmosphere-reducing gas.
Sound confusing? Well, you haven’t heard the music yet! Having flown solo from his Dirty Perfect group some while back, this is the Cardiff singer and multi-instrumentalist seeking to embrace country, blues, electronica and folk. With Air, Beck, Evan Dando and John Lennon amongst his lengthy list of influences, the signs are we’re in for an eclectic listen – and so it proves.
All too often, however, this takes place at the expense of the artist’s own identity. For all The Golden Beatle’s credible fusing of big rock sounds and woozy electronica – Beginners a prime example – it becomes difficult to know where his heart really lies.
Not that his views are much in doubt, mind. “God shines on those who treat others well; and the politicians are going straight to hell” he proclaims on Hobo Occupation, a protest song of barely concealed anger – yet one that manages to secure hope also.
When at rest, Francis is easier to interpret. The reflective title track is a delicately poised muse, its revealing lyric “for this could be the last time you’ll see me in the moonshine” taking place over a nicely soporific and spacious backing. Mistakes I Have Made is rather more confessional, and here he notes on a downward note that “the consequence to living is that we’re all gonna die some time”.
Yet once too often when the beats get blustery, it proves difficult to keep up, as there’s too much going on in the background to be able to comprehend the lyrics, the ear drawn to several musical happenings at once.
What Francis does have in his favour is the talent to secure a large range of instrumental colours, moods and lyrics – opting sometimes for simple, direct statements, and on the other hand making more oblique lyrical references. The feeling persists with The Golden Beatle that he has thrown too much into the mix, when a little more discretion might have worked better.
Don’t let that put you off completely though, as an expressive talent is at work here. It’s just that it won’t be to all tastes.