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Willard Grant Conspiracy | Regard the End (Loose)
Another year, another WGC album. Well, not quite. Since the last time we saw them, singer Robert Fisher has split with his principal collaborator Paul Austin and taken the helm of the band single-handedly, aided and abetted as always by a amorphous pool of musicians, this time drawn from not only Boston and London but also from the far reaches of Slovenia where the basic tracks to this album were recorded. So what change, you may ask? Well, it's hugely apparent from the first song that things, while sounding the same, are in fact very different. It's all in the structure. Previously, WGC songs always started out with promise, threat and menace and would invariably culminate in the kind of idiotic, asinine sing-along chorus (repeated 12 times) that anyone with a modicum of decency or taste found anodyne and facile. And so, guess what, the choruses are gone. Hurrah! And what we're left with is a sepia-drenched, slow (very slow) album that takes as its root traditional folk narrative storytelling and fuses it to the world weary ennui that Fisher has so successfully mined. And, of course, there's his voice; rich and magnificent at times, downbeat and full of dread at others, really finding its pitch on the opening River In The Pines, perhaps the best song here, stuffed and suffused with misery, love, marriage, death and disaster. That's what you want, after all. And, by now, you know what to expect from Fisher on this, his fifth album: songs about drifters (The Trails of Harrison Hayes,) burdens of shame, oceans of regret and twisted folk spirituals. All without the maddening football-chant choruses of yore. After a great start though, the album dips slightly in the middle. Soft Hand introduces drum loops and a more modern feel but for all that sounds tired and bedraggled, a kind of Lambchop-lite (perish the idea!) Perhaps here is where the album's main fault makes itself evident and it's in the pacing of these songs which is downbeat all the way - a shame as Fisher's voice sounds great on faster, more aggressive pieces. There's also a slightly nagging admonitory tone to some of the lyrics but these are small things and the album, overall, is more satisfying than any of theirs since 'Flying Low'. Perhaps the album's contradictions are best exemplified by The Suffering Song which boasts some great writing in the verses detailing a family being fractured by the death of a mother but which resorts to the old platitudinal chorus stratagem, an Everybody Hurts type of asininity which states "Suffering's gonna come to everyone someday." Well, yeah....thanks for that, Robert.
CWAS #12 - Summer 2003