Former Girls frontman Christopher Owens is something of an enigma. While much is made of his interesting childhood – which saw him grow up in the travelling religious cult Children of God – everything that the 35-year-old from Miami does seems to create intrigue. Take the artwork for his second solo album, A New Testament, which is difficult to ignore in the same way that a car crash is for a passing motorist.
His new record – and its pretty dreadful cover art – arrives less than two years after Owens’ solo debut, Lysandre, which was released at the beginning of 2013 to lukewarm reviews. Although it was a solid first effort and featured a fascinating central concept, it still had the feel of a transition album and relied rather too heavily on its medieval stylings. In fact, it was quite a move away from the infectious pop he produced alongside fellow Girls bandmate Chet ‘JR’ White.
In many ways, the same can be said of this record, which sees Owens take inspiration from American country and gospel music and just roll with it. Such is his restless nature, he is constantly looking at how he can evolve and progress and A New Testament certainly adheres to that. However, unlike Lysandre, Owens’ second album is a far more comfortable fit.
The album kicks off with the clearest example of Owens’ new direction in My Troubled Heart, which is even complete with a gospel backing choir, as he sings: “Well, early in the morning, at the break of day/ I ain’t got no God, to hear my pray.” It is a clear statement of intent, one dominated by a straightforward guitar melody that introduces the Americana roots at the heart of A New Testament.
Nothing More Tha Everything To Me is more indebted to country music – complete with its fiddly guitar hook and wistful outlook – while ballad Oh My Love delivers a concise and simple melody that is also a signature of the genre. It is Stephen that makes the biggest impact, though, with Owens using the song’s gospel structure to reflect on his family past, singing: “We were Children of God, but all that we wanted was our father’s love.”
It captures Owens at his most heartfelt, as he sings about his relationship with his father and the death of his two-year-old brother (“Just like an angel, he flew away/ gone from this earth, at two years of age”). Despite its dark subject matter, the song is beautifully uplifting and captures the generally more positive mood of the record as a whole – something that is not usually associated with his work with Girls.
That said, It Comes Back To You does sonically resemble Girls’ second LP Father, Son, Holy Ghost, with its slow-burning guitar hook eventually giving way to a euphoric and memorable chorus, where Owens repeatedly sings: “You’ve got to give your love away.” The short, joyful burst of Nobody’s Business is also a welcome reminder of his ability to write irresistible pop tunes, with its catchy hook skipping along without a care in the world.
Yet as the record reaches its conclusion, the country influences become even more pronounced, leaving several tracks that are too twee for their own good. Heart Akin The Wind is about as cheesy as it gets, while Key To My Heart and Over And Above Myself are also awkward to listen to thanks to their sickly sweet lyrics. Thankfully, Overcoming Me rights those wrongs, with the track originally written before Girls’ debut was released.
Overall, A New Testament is an improvement on Lysandre and demonstrates Owens’ ability to adapt to a multitude of different genres. Whether his flexibility is necessarily a good thing is another matter, though, as there are occasions here where it sounds like there are too many ideas in the melting pot. If Owens can just focus on exactly what he wants to achieve, the results could be very special indeed.