Swedish singer-guitarist Paul Marshall, having recorded his 2007 debut Vultures under his own name, now returns as Lone Wolf, with a band including members of Grammatics, Duels, Jeniferever and Napoleon IIIrd. This first outing under the new name is one of dark, contradictory charms.
Marshall is a talented lyricist, using arresting imagery and spinning troubling tales. His description of a sinister, borderline-deranged ex in This Is War and 15 Letters is at once entertaining and slightly alarming. The former starts off relatively amusingly, with epigrammatic lines like “I slaughtered her a cow, and I’m a vegetarian”. But by the end statements like “Dad, I won’t be coming home / I’m gonna take this all the way / My kids’ll understand some day” seem much less funny. 15 Letters seems to be describing the same relationship, a woman all “glassy glazed eyes” who leads our hero “down the garden path” and “bled me dry”. Interestingly, both songs display a marked contrast between the dark harsh subject matter and the musical setting, which is a gentle AOR-style rock.
This contrast continues through most of the album, with strong, dramatic, lyrically black material on the likes of Keep Your Eyes On The Road – “Looking at me like I’m a waste of skin (…) Wondering how I fucked this up” – combined with a nu-folk setting that recalls Fleetwood Mac or Midlake. Other musical styles featured are the gentle balladry of We Could Use Your Blood, and Dead River’s simple, sun-dappled acoustic loveliness. There’s even a spot of Roger Whittaker style whistling towards the end here, jarring nicely with the depiction of “… air (…) sour as a mortuary morning”. Soldiers opens with impressive acapella vocal harmonies, then develops with dramatic drums replicating the sound of marching (soldiers’?) feet, and ends with an atmospheric bell’s knell.
Marshall is gifted with a warm and often arresting vocal. It is particularly strong on Buried Beneath The Tiles, combined with dramatic use of violins, and Soldiers and Dead River, where its sensitivity contributes to the effect of this stand-out track. Also wonderful are This Is War, 15 Letters and The Devil And I (Part 2).
The latter, as suggested by the name, is the second piece of a pair of tracks that constitute an approximate “theme” for the album. Perhaps surprisingly for such a gifted lyricist, the first – The Devil And I (Part 1) – is instrumental. It succeeds, nonetheless, in conveying both mood and meaning, with a mournful rather than creepy tone set by the oddly old fashioned piano refrain. Appearing just past the album’s middle, it provides a fitting break from the lyrical action. Part 2 closes the album and is slow, ponderous and also notable for being one of the few tracks where synths are used. Here too, the grandeur and tragic beauty that have by now become something of a trademark can be found; this dignified song achieves a kind of stark drama without ever becoming overwrought.
This album proves to be something of a two-in-one experience. Superficially there is much pleasant, gentle, unchallenging music to be enjoyed. Delve deeper, though, and really listen, and a haunting world of she-devils, blood, conflict and fire awaits. In this contrast, indeed, lies much of its appeal.