Respect to Jon Allen for pursuing the independent route in releasing his debut album Dead Mans Suit (lack of punctuation courtesy of the artist). Remember, this is a man who has already sold over 20,000 copies of his single Going Home on the back of its inclusion on a Land Rover advert.
Independent does not always mean good, however, and how this album is received is a test of Allen’s relevance in 2009. Lazy reviewers may praise his independent stance, but what concerns us here is the quality of the music.
Dead Mans Suit opens up with the title track, which has previously seen the light of day as the b-side of Going Home. A groovy acoustic shuffle with some very Zombies‘ like organ stabs, the track sets the benchmark for the rest of the album. This is tasteful adult rock by any other name, with the Paul Weller fanbase circa Wild Wood being courted furiously. Check out Young Mans Blues and the Girl From The North Country rewrite New Years Eve for further evidence.
Let’s not be too critical of Allen. He has a natural way with a melody and an easy-going charm that it takes some other artists years to master. But the sad reality is that this album quickly turns into a game of spot the influence, so steeped is it in the dusty corners of Allen’s presumably immaculate collection of old ’60s and ’70s vinyl.
In Your Light is a case in point, with Allen raising his vocal register a notch to nail a perfect impression of Rod Stewart in the early ’70s. Whereas Stewart’s voice crackled with laddish tension, however, Allen just sounds tasteful. A similar problem affects another track on the album which has Stewart written all over it, Happy Now.
Going Home is undeniably a beautiful song, although it has been slightly tarnished by its association with the city slicker’s choice of off-pavement mode of transport. But close your eyes and you could swear you were listening to Stephen Stills‘s melancholic masterpiece 4+20.
Down By The River may namedrop a Neil Young song but its country rock leanings are closer in spirit to Ryan Adams‘ magpie tendencies than old iron-jaw’s restless creativity. Still, some nice guitar licks are on show here.
As is perhaps to be expected, the bulk of Dead Mans Suit aims to replicate the melancholic atmospherics of Going Home. It worked for James Blunt after all, and Allen does his best to charm the knickers off female record buyers with tracks such as Sleeping Soul, Take Me To Heart and Friends, which match doey-eyed regret with new man heart-on-sleeve sincerity.
The most affecting song on the album by a country mile is Lay Your Burden Down, with Allen stripping away the artifice to essay a striking modern blues song that lingers long in the memory.
Is there still an audience for this type of music? We are living in a year dominated by girly electro-pop after all, and even Blunt has retreated to his castle to count the coppers. A few curious music fans may be drawn in by the sheer damned authenticity of Allen’s music, but it’s difficult to see him crossing over to the mainstream.