Having only come into contact with one other artist from Peter Gabriel‘s Real World Records stable, the rather underwhelming Pina, I was not overly excited about listening to Joseph Arthur‘s new album. Much more well known in his native USA, he is in fact one of the odd ones out at Real World, being a mainstream English language artist rather than a ‘world musician’. Let me say that Joseph Arthur is a highly talented musician, and Redemption’s Son is an album well worth buying. Inevitably, though, there is a but.
From what I have read and been told about the process of making an album, the individuals involved in making the record go to the studio taking approximately 20 songs with them. They record these songs, and then choose the best 10 or so, which are put on the album, while the rest become B-sides. I can imagine the process of choosing songs to get rid of can be very difficult, especially considering the care and craft that has gone into them.
Now I mention all this because it seems that JosephArthur got to the stage of having to select tracks to put on Redemption’s Son, but then just said, “Sod it, I’m off down the pub”. The album consists of 16 tracks, and has a running time of an hour and a quarter. No matter who the album is by, a record that lasts that long is inevitably going to suffer from being so unreasonably… well, long.
Infuriatingly, the album is already trying to do too much. While Arthur’s previous record, Come To Where I’m From was produced by the legendary T Bone Burnett, the production on this record is at times truly dreadful. The production tries to take the songs in directions which are at odds with the very essence of the songs themselves.
On top of this, many tracks use a grating drum machine, not to mention an abundance of harmonies of the banal type. Comparisons have been made with Beck, Gomez, Leonard Cohen, Counting Crows and The Dave Matthews Band, and it seems that here Arthur is trying to please fans of all these bands, and more people besides.
All attempts to manufacture a poppy side to the record are dismal failures. Rather it is on the more folksy songs, with simple production and either a band or just Arthur on his guitar, that the songs really work. The tragic thing is that there are no bad songs at all on this album, it is rather the way that they are interpreted which is so dubious.
As for paring the album down, there are possibly 10 great tracks on Redemption’s Son. Many of these come in the latter part of the album, following the epic central track, Termite Song, a track which demonstrates just what Arthur can achieve when he goes back to his troubadour roots, and sticks with simplicity.
While I cannot recommend it unconditionally, what I can say is that there is an incredible record waiting inside Redemption’s Son. All you have to do is be a wee bit creative. So go buy it, listen to it, and put those great tracks on a tape, leaving the duds behind. And then listen to that tape. What you hear will be something truly splendid. It could even be one of the best albums of the year.