It’s not as easy as it looks this music reviewing malarkey. Flying in the face of noble sentiment and popular opinion ain’t a painless process. Still, duty is duty, and honesty is the policy here.
But were every number from Simone White‘s I Am The Man much like the titular closing track, this writing game would be as simple as nurturing a dislike for Mick Hucknall. Well alright, nothing’s that simple.
And so it is that Simone White’s second album arrives fresh from the recording consoles of alt-Nashville’s favourite son, Mark Nevers. Having worn down the digital grooves of the Nevers’ produced Master And Everyone, White wanted her next record to sound just like Bonnie Prince Billy‘s 2003 album.
Much like Nevers’ other work, I Am The Man harbours little room for pyrotechnics. The artist is allowed the starring role, and muted fills of trumpet, bass and softly-stroked drums are little more than an acoustic echo for ‘the man’ herself.
For sure, there is ‘classic’ songwriting here, whether by White herself or Goffin/King revivalists Frank Bango and Richy Vesechy. Hawaiin-born White’s own mother churned out tin-pan alley-style teen melodrama’s, and the pop-structure gene has clearly been passed on without dilution.
‘I Didn’t Have A Summer Romance’ actually springs from the Goffin/King partnership, and’Roses Are Not Red’ and ‘Mary Jane’ have the easy-scanning of that Brill building partnership in their pomp. Even the iron-fist, velvet-glove polemics of Great Imperialist State and We Used To Stand So Tall are in thrall to structure and form.
From the clever, clever torch-song inversions (‘I Didn’t Have A Summer Romance’ ‘Sweetest Love Song’), the Dubya grumbles (‘The American War’ ‘We Used To Stand So Tall’) and the skippy, flower-child daydreams (‘Worm Was Wood’ ‘Why Is Your Raincoat Always Crying?’), every movement on I Am The Man is in its rightful place. And that’s really the problem.
White’s own presentation is never anything less, or more, than delicate, her style drifting between a cyincal Astrud Gilberto, and rather bored-sounding versions of Joan As Police Woman, and more peculiarly, Mary Hopkin.
Beneath the high-calorific bittersweetness, there’s just a rumble of assembly line melancholy. Worse, the predetermined atmosphere of woody spook almost makes one wish no-one had ever heard of Five Leaves Left.
Also, though White’s humour is never far from an all-too-even surface, I Am The Man isn’t the kind of company you’ll look to keep when Britain’s next rain-sodden bank holiday arrives like a tax demand.
Only on that final track, I Am The Man does this record’s languidity arise from its Sunday morning slumber. Acoustically solo, whimsy in check and her aim true, White hits self-empowerment gold with ” The voices of scared folk will never be heard/ open your throat and sing like a bird / ‘Cause in my own government / I am the president”.
When push comes to shove, there are no ‘bad’ songs on I Am The Man. Many of its constituent parts are possibly haunting in isolation, but taken en masse this is one slow spiral descent into soporific surrender.
Sometimes the right noises are the least interesting.