We’ve made a bit of an effort with this one (should you have to?) after reading a review from a mega-fan who couldn’t understand why O’Farrell wasn’t much more popular, what with his clever tunes and biting lyrics and all.
We can tell him why: O’Farrell’s voice is an acquired taste. It’s not that he has a bad voice but it’s a slightly unusual, nasally tone – imagine Bruce Dern’s signing voice. The tunes, lyrics and musicianship are all good, but the vocals are, as they say, distinctive.
Here It Comes opens and it’s a jaunty number that tips its hat to the song from whence came the title, the Rolling Stones’ 19th Nervous Breakdown, without ever going close enough for royalties to be suggested.
While the Stones lamented ruining a child (“You were always spoiled with a thousand toys but still you cried all night”) O’Farrell looks at the possibilities, “Let me be what I should be” and “I’m sonnet, I’m haiku, I’m ballad form / I’m snowflake … I’m hailstone, I’m getting warm”.
The 60s feel continues in Dear Life, though the pace is slowed, and O’Farrell sings/speaks, “It’s been a very trying year in a very trying decade too”, the titular “dear life” as in “holding on for….”
Slow Magic is flute-led 60s pop, a more optimistic tune, “It’s time to let the cynics fade away / It’s time to cast this albatross away”.
I’m Afraid gives the album its title. Against a rather jaunty semi-country beat, O’Farrell signs about all the fears of the world – “I’m afraid of the actions of the whole human race … I’m afraid of Alzheimer’s hollowing my mind … I’m afraid of fascism continuing its rise” and he blames Richard Scarry, American children’s author whose books anthropomorphised animals and presented the world as a helpful place, lulling young Dan into a false sense of security.
Certain songs suit O’Farrell’s voice: Hedgehog, about mental health issues, is lovely, the vocals gentle and what we assume is a double bass played with a bow. Fill My Lungs is similar to Hedgehog, while In The Sun is a nice indie pop tune.
A serious album, covering serious topics but not without some pleasurable moments.
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