On the last Coldplay album is a song called Evergreen, which deals with the break up of Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow’s marriage. Nothing too unusual about that, as break-up songs probably date back to the beginning of popular music itself. What did raise eyebrows was that it was the consciously uncoupling couple themselves singing the song, after the break up. It was rather queasy.
Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding haven’t let the Chris ‘n’ Gwynnie experience put them off, though. The Kiwi pair – probably the closest thing that New Zealand music had to a ‘power couple’ broke up recently, and its that which has inspired Williams’ second album. Almost every track is draped in longing, hurt and regret – and on the standout track, Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore, Harding herself appears to duet with her former paramour.
The pain behind that break-up has certainly moved Williams up a creative level. Whereas his debut self-titled album was a perfectly serviceable slice of alt-country, it wasn’t really distinctive enough to stand ahead of the pack. That’s all changed with Make Way For Love which, at times, contains some of the heartbreakingly beautiful songs you’ll hear all year.
The most referenced influence for Williams seems to be Roy Orbison, and there’s certainly something of The Big O’s phrasing in his vocals. Mostly though, the name that comes to mind during Make Way For Love is a more recent one – that of Chris Isaak. There’s the same sense of an old soul trapped in time, of heartbreak and pain bubbling underneath the rich vibrato. It’s there in the barely restrained jealous anger of Party Boy where Williams threatens to dump a perceived love rival “at the bottom of the sea”, or in the longing of Beautiful Dress where he begs for his old love to “come back and let me wear you like a beautiful dress” (which, frankly, sounds a bit creepy).
Mostly though, the lush arrangements and Williams’ extraordinary voice put the listener most in mind of Richard Hawley. especially in the swooning strings of opening track Come To Me or in the misplaced yearning of Can I Call You. Generally though it’s an album that, despite the comparisons, establishes Williams as a voice of his own, mostly due to his lyrics which explore the deterioration of his relationship in honest, unflinching detail.
He has a way with a memorable turn of phrase, as on the stark piano ballad Love Is A Terrible Thing, which perfectly encapsulates the confusion felt after a break-up: “People tell me, boy you dodged a bullet, but if only it had hit me then I’d know the peace it brings.” Then there’s the aforementioned Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore, almost drowning in poignancy thanks to the presence of Harding. The moment where Harding’s voice disappears and Williams is left alone singing “what I am going to do when you’re in trouble, and you don’t call for me?” is almost too sad to bear.
Yet, no matter how painful the break up, you know you’d be happy to put yourself through it all over again, and it’s on that bittersweet note that the title track brings the album to a close. A doo-wop song for the 21st century, it’s akin to seeing bright sunshine and a rainbow after a particularly vicious storm. It’s that hope which stops Make Way For Love from becoming a self-pitying mope, and instead essential listening, as a comforting antidote to a broken heart.