Album Reviews

Luke Black – Chainsaws In Paradise

(s/r) UK release date: 24 May 2024


Serbia’s 2023 Eurovision entry sets out daddy issues, outsider perspective and the end of the world in a debut of hugely varied revelation

Luke Black - Chainsaws In Paradise The Eurovision Song Contest brings about both novelty acts and musicians who last the course, some whose names are made by it, others already famous who want to involve themselves in its storied legacy. Whether one wins or achieves the dreaded nul points hardly matters in context of being invited to platform one’s wares to millions of screens across Europe and beyond. In the 50th anniversary year of Waterloo’s triumph, it couldn’t ever be said to have done Abba any harm, nor their compatriot Loreen who, in 2023, became the first solo artist to win the event twice.

That same year, the Contest brought Serbia’s Luke Black to the momentary consciousness of the continent with a performance of the chaptered, rock-operatic Sam mi se spava (I just want to sleep), a darkly sultry concoction which saw him marry pulverising guitars, exotic synth phrases and dual language lyrics about wanting to sleep through all his problems to an addictively throbbing bass, concluding in pulling feeder tubes, Matrix style, from the heads of his dancers. There was much to take in: here was the sort of song that needs to be experienced more than once. But the night of the Eurovision final is not the place for repeats; judges and the public saw fit to place it 24th. 

Undeterred, a year on and music graduate Black – in between interviewing this year’s selections including Ireland’s similarly goth-tinged Bambi Thug for the Contest – has put together a debut album with which to progress his musical life. And, five years in the making in London and Serbia, the self-released Chainsaws In Paradise turns out to be a hugely varied revelation. Contrastingly interesting textures abound, expensive-sounding production is perfectly poised to accentuate and intrigue, and there are strands of clear thematic connections that place Black’s outsider feelings, beyond the conventions of familial expectation, religious orthodoxy and heteronormativity, front and centre. Moody, broody, harmonious and hiding nothing away, this industrial/ gothic/ dance-pop melange of a thing is a melting pot. And it sounds like an album he’s made for himself. 

As if to make just that point, striking first track God’s Too Cool centres on being an outsider to the cool crowd, while the second, Drinking Jack With Daddy, takes his macho father to task with a heart-rending recount of wanting to hear “those three words people say” and that “he wanted to be killed”. The abyssal effects on his vocals as he sings “da da” in the chorus tell us as much about this relationship as the poignant lyrics, and tells of the resulting desiccation of the soul of the unloved son, who’s “just another soft boy”. Standard fare about love these songs are not. Yet beyond those scene-setters, Glitch wouldn’t sound out of place alongside a setlist of Lady Gaga tunes from 15 years ago, even down to the knowing yet irritating Auto-Tune. More poppy still is hook-laden closer Only Your Love, which in the hands of Ace Of Base might have bothered the top ends of the charts back in the day but here retools to somehow sound both modern and retro. There’s space too for the title track, which calls to mind Muse at their most bombastic, and Helium, the closest this album gets to a love song, which pares plaintive piano over processed vocals to arresting effect. 

Most fascinating of all – away from talk of guns and uncaring fathers, at least – is the eerily immersive Winter Dahlia, in which a lovely piano motif serenades away into what sounds like a choir of witch children incanting some intergenerational truth about the end of the world, while a stylistic battle for its soul rages between dance club and rock arena. You couldn’t accuse Black and his producers of a dearth of ideas. Thoughtful from the off, there’s barely a track here that doesn’t earn its keep – even the eyebrow-raising I’m So Happy can catch you unawares – and just when you think you have a handle on what he’s about, Black brings in something else that proves fascinating. Finishing 24th in Eurovision might reasonably conclude a career, but you sense from Chainsaws In Paradise that for Luke Black, there’s every chance that it marks a beginning.


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