You know those people who, when attending parties with a professional photographer present, always seem to evade the lens, and remain conspicuously absent from the ensuing album whether they want to be part of it or not? Well, that was Bill Ryder-Jones in The Coral. Always in the periphery of things, at the back of photoshoots, skulking underneath hoodies in promo videos, turning away from the audience at televised gigs, seemingly unseen by TV cameras even when in the midst of an impressive guitar solo, and eventually forced out of the band due to a stress-related illness.
Which is what makes A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart such an intriguing prospect. This isn’t some lead singer’s solo vanity venture, this is a shy boy (pushing 30, but still a boy) who couldn’t face taking the stage even when the spotlight wasn’t on him, and is only releasing records thanks to some tenacious and persuasive friends, recording the album in his mother’s house. This is a brave album – predictably melancholy and unassuming, perhaps, but also highly accomplished and sometimes deeply affecting.
His thoughtful, introspective lyrics reinforce his outsider status, struggling to make sense of a world that just seems easier for everyone else. “I have half the things I wanted,” he complains in By The Morning, a lovely lament with gentle fingerpicked guitar and a vocal melody that falls and rises with skilful irregularity – not unlike the folk work of Roddy Woomble, that other shy indie boy gone solo. There’s A World Between Us takes us to the dance to talk with the wallflowers, asking “won’t you be there to catch me if I miss a step, or if the floor gets wet?”.
Indeed it would be quite easy to describe Ryder-Jones as a little “wet” himself – were it not for the acute observations and darker touches that pepper the songs. You’re Getting Like Your Sister, with a Beatles chord sequence in tow, tells a pretty girl at school that the “other girls just wanted to be pretty too [then] they turned against you”. He Took You In His Arms, the pinnacle of the album, is on the face of it a simple tale of jealousy, the protagonist losing out to the bigger man with Nick Hornby-esque inevitability. But a feeling of greater disquiet begins to grow, as he finds her homework in the park, questions the neighbours, noting that “eyes will always open for the things they want to see”, and subtly points towards a darker outcome.
He’s not much of a one for a chorus – he’s more of a lots of verses kind of chap, starting each one with the title of the song and building it from there. This isn’t an automatic fault, but it gets wearying after a while. You don’t have to belt it out like the regional sales manager doing Livin’ On A Prayer at the Christmas party, but it would be nice if he’d just sing a little more – too many lines fizzle out to a mumble or are buried in the mix beneath the instruments. There are excellent melodies throughout the album, notably the Waterloo Sunset-shaded guitar licks of Wild Swans and the stirring piano refrain of Hanging Song, but it’s hard not to wish a few more of them came direct from the man’s mouth.
That said, his skills as an songwriter and arranger are clearly evident – each song builds with subtlety and restraint, and there’s a neat rhythmic twist halfway through Anthony & Owen that brings his former band to mind. In fact, there’s more than enough here to establish Ryder-Jones as a serious solo artist – all it needs is one more notch on the self-confidence dial, and that potential could translate into astounding results.