Ever had your heart broken? Rupert Morrison clearly has. It is a gut-wrenching experience, painful beyond belief. But it can also open up an emotional wellspring and bring realisation of many things. So it can be a great source of creativity.
The first time I had my heart broken I wrote the four best songs I’d written up to that point, all about how much I loved and hated both her and myself. Rupert did a similar thing on the end of his relationship, but the difference was I scrapped my songs for better ones, whereas his were so good he got signed to Drift Records and made a unique sounding album which the label ‘acoustic’ barely describes.
Learning About Loathing captures the ambiguity of being dumped. That sense of betrayal, jealousy, hatred; but all growing from the rich soil of desperate love. The title track begins the process: “Broke my heart in two, and didn’t give me my half. What good to you, is half a broken lover?”. This is the voice of being truly defeated by love, but the hopelessness is diminished by emotional honesty. The ultimate power is knowing our own failings.
It is hard to write about this album without getting carried away by its strong emotional content – thus perhaps doing it a disservice – because the understated nature and simplicity contributes greatly to the power of the song flow. This simplicity belies some courageous and sophisticated decisions concerning song ordering and production.
Song-ordering first: we have the title track then Summer Bride (with Nick Drake-ish sparkling chorus) and Night Falls (dark acoustics as “night falls on me, but your face is the sun”), climaxing in Funeral for a Foe (hardcore electric/viola Velvet Underground); but then leading into Favourite Son. And what is Favourite Son? A cheerful country plunking celebration of Abraham Lincoln…Sounds mad – but somehow it works. It really is needed after the pounding emotionality of the first three tracks.
The story continues into the catchy and vaguely Jose Gonzalez-reminiscent Honestly Now and Ruder Me. Thankfully all heartbreak resolves in the end with In Out – “In is easy, out is painful” – a song that I first heard in isolation and wasn’t sure about. But in the context of the album and of the previous display of Rupert’s ravaged emotions it has a strong poignancy of lessons learned through time. (There is also a further secret resolution after In Out, but I’ll leave that for you to discover. It’s beautiful.)
On top of the song ordering, the production is key to Learning About Loathing. Producer Steve Grainger took Rupert, musician Johny Lamb (who ‘discovered’ Rupert) and other contributers to The RG Morrison down to St Melanus Parish Church in a tiny Cornish Country village. There they recorded the whole album in a single day – using Rupert’s acoustic guitar, strangely-mic’d drums, the church organ, handclaps, and other miscellaneous instruments, even the church bell.
Lo Fi is definitely the new Hi Fi here. Songs that start with the sound of the organ bellows being clicked on are then puctuated with auto-generated choral harmonies. Lush real strings melt into Rupert’s delicate, occasionally endearingly off-tune voice. A pause in the middle of one song is explained as simulating the original demo recording – where Rupert pauses to turn a page in the recently-written lyrics. In the title track, seemingly under-mic’d guitar and drums are pounced upon by a striking electric guitar riff in the chorus.
If these descriptions tantalise you, then good – they’re meant to. This album deserves tasting – the RG Morrison providing a much needed counterweight to the about-to-burst bubble of the singer/songwriter market. They even perform as a band under a name starting with ‘The’ rather than a more cliched releasing of material as ‘Rupert Morrison’. Rupert’s haunting but catchy songs, combined with arrangements and production from Johny Lamb and Steve Grainger, makes for a truly unique release.