Go and fetch your favourite bottle of red. It doesn’t matter if it’s half price this week or not, you’ll need a warm Cup-a-Soup hug it’ll give you when you put this record on, and personally I only get that from my favourite red. Perhaps that’s why I love and fear this record in almost equal measure. If there’s someone you love, get him or her round. If there’s someone you could happily snuggle up in bed and share your wine with, then they’ll do too. If you can’t get, or don’t have, any of those people then accept that there’s going to be none of that bottle left in an hours time. You might think I’m overdoing the point, and if I am, it’s only a little.
You may have seen one of the few videos of this man on YouTube, in which case you will know what his voice sounds like. If not I’ll do my best to describe. It’s like the breath of a sleeping lover in your ear. A voice that instantly surrounds itself with silence. When you blow out a candle, that small wisp of smoke cautiously drifts from the wick, streams forth for slightly longer than you expected, before thinning to nothing. That’s it. Vulnerable like a candle in gale force winds. Filled with memory. OK, enough eulogising and metaphors. Review.
Perhaps I’ve taken so long getting to the meat of this because, it just feels invasive to talk about the contents of this album. From start to finish it’s like stepping into a very personal diary, made oh so much more delicate by the arrangement and delivery of each entry. Not a single song passes without a ‘me’ or a ‘you’, an ‘I’ or even a ‘Keaton’. Scientists seem desperate to create music direct from our brainwaves and they should talk to Mr Henson because he’s mastered it, apparently.
The first few tracks set the scene; the warm twinkle of electric guitar perfectly illuminates the confessions, pleas and sacrifices detailed in the lyrics. Throughout the album the words are acerbically blunt and cutting, certain to form wonderful songs from anyone’s mouth, but coupled with the cobweb-delicate voice of Henson the result is spellbinding, and the listener is quickly wound into his world, ready to be emotionally dismantled by the third track, ‘You’. Toying with death, this song is perfectly placed to be both devastating and reassuring. Reassuring in the way only experiencing something devastating can be. With cinematically folky strings supporting the sorrow, the track builds majestically to a worship of ‘you’.
This is instantly followed by the happy intro to ‘Lying To You’, filled with self-inspiritment, you feel that Henson has gathered himself somewhat. Coupled with ‘The Best Today’, this really is the happy bit of the album, but our protagonist keeps everything on edge with an incredible ability to turn the mood of entire song on its last line. I can’t describe it. Description of this album is difficult as you might tell, me having only got to the fourth track…
It is at this point that you may spill your wine, so mind your bedsheets. Read other reviews if you want this to surprise you less, but Keaton has a bit of a defibrillation for you here, one which is best enjoyed having let the previous tracks slow your heart into it. I’m a staunch advocate of listening to an album as a whole, and this is a moment that validates that. Throughout, this album is perfectly constructed to suck you in, keep you interested and spit you out the end a distraught, tearful, heart pumping, better-for-the-journey addict. ‘Don’t Swim’ and ‘Kronos’ are Henson out of his shell. Naked and glorious, shouting at the world.
It’s almost relief when we settle back in to ‘Beekeeper’, set like a refrain from the preceding storm, it instantly brings you back to the tightly bottled emotion from before, with a newly adopted more strident attitude. Strident because this is surely the most rhythmic offering on the album, and as such it feels unusual. Not out of place, just unusual. Like an aftershock.
To end, we cycle to where we started. To the overtly bitter reticence, self-deprecation, but also of acceptance. With a grand bed of french horns, Henson’s cracked porcelain soul is raised gallantly as only the broken protagonist can. In many ways it would have been fair to end it there, but there’s just one last patch of gravel Henson wants to drag us over, as we join him almost reflecting on the past nine tracks. Just him and his piano. Sounding like there’s a future. Honest to his faults. Seeking forgiveness. Haggard from the journey you’ve shared, Keaton leaves as he arrived, through his door to the street.
And then there’s three more tracks on the ‘Deluxe Edition’. Two ways to look at them, either outcasts from the cut of the main ten tracks that he just couldn’t not share, or a short epilogue. I think it’s the former to be honest, and that they could have been released separately with some of the other songs he’s written (the total stands at over 100 apparently). Perhaps I’m missing the point, but I don’t believe in ‘bonus tracks’, whoever the artist. I guess that’s part of my love of the album. If it needs to say more, put those tracks in, if it doesn’t leave them out. The middle ground of the bonus track is just a frustration.
Anyway, this has dragged on long enough simply because I can’t put this album into words. I’m sure your interpretation of it will be different to mine. A quick browse of the internet will reveal those who hail it as brave, bombastic genius, and others as wallowy trite. I think the difference of opinion depends on your experience. And that’s fine. I’m sure there are some people on the scale for whom it’s just too close to home that they can’t listen to it.
I’ve been very careful to not make comparisons to other artists because I think this is both different to anything else being created right now, and has to stand on its own merits. But I’ll break that truce now. There is only one lyricist who can compare right now, and that is Rachel Sermanni. If you love getting lost in her stories, Henson is just as captivating.
A few weeks ago I was sent a YouTube video of Jeff Buckley’s version of Just Like A Woman by an old flame. I know others have rushed headlong into comparing them already, flippantly almost, I think they are similar in their emotional delivery. Listen to that song and tell me Jeff doesn’t care. And if he cares, Keaton certainly does too.
Go and listen. Sit and take in the whole album; I’m not going to recommend three best tracks. Every song stands on its own, but listen to the whole thing, as it’s one of the best put together albums of the last few years. And don’t blame him for not playing live all that much. Once you’ve listened, I think you’ll understand why.
Having banged on about listening to the whole album, I can’t really link a song here can I? Well, there is a collaboration with The Staves of one of the tracks, recorded at State of the Ark Studios, which is just incredibly beautiful. Oh, and search out some of his artwork and poetry too! Get your copy here
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