It has been said that “beauty in distress is the most affecting beauty”. It has also been said that “the soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone”. Both statements appeal to my inner sense of beauty, though they do not necessarily accurately convey my personal circumstances. Anyone who has met me (online or in person) probably finds out fairly quickly that I love friends & family, coffee, the beach, and music (of course – this is a music site after all). These characteristics all have a way of intermingling in my mind so that a memory of a loved one now gone will have its own soundtrack, a cup of coffee becomes a chance to reminisce about youthful follies, and a walk on the beach becomes enhanced by the Chariots of Fire theme song scored by Vangelis (I’m kidding about that last part. I think. Maybe.). All variations of beauty. The debut album by Martin Rossiter (formerly of Gene) is the most beautiful album I’ve heard since I Am a Bird Now by Antony & the Johnsons.
It has been 11 years since Gene’s last album, Libertine (and about 8 since they broke up). Gene had the unfortunate luck of constantly being compared to The Smiths throughout their entire career. A difficult topic for a band to have to deal with and it seemed to hamper the band’s success (especially in the US). In the late 90’s, my brother and I had the opportunity to see the band at the Trocadero in Philadelphia – and the place was only half full. Gene played their hearts out and Martin Rossiter’s stage presence was unbelievable. Knowing all of this and loving each record by Gene – I STILL was unprepared by the devastating beauty of Rossiter’s debut album, The Defenestration of St. Martin. Gone are the full band assaults replaced with…piano & voice. This is the basic formula for the entire album, and it works stunningly. The lyrics come from a place of pain but are seasoned with darkly humorous bits (reminding me of Morrissey, I must say). Add in the finest vocal performance of Rossiter’s career and musical accompaniment that is emotionally resonant – and you have yourself a MUST HAVE record.
Satan grant me this wish and you’re welcome to my soul (album highlights)
Three Points on a Compass opens the album in subdued fashion with a bitterness barely concealed in Rossiter’s emotional delivery. A complete departure from the Britpop days of Gene – a completely different vibe. Sparse piano is the only musical backing as Martin Rossiter sings very personal lyrics directed at what sounds like his father. The longest track on the album at over 10 minutes, it is an in your face move and a brilliant one at that. Key lyrics: “You broke our home / I will never forgive / All of the things you did / The only thing I got from you / Was my name / My stupid name”
I Want to Choose When I Sleep Alone – features a title that sounds like it comes from the Morrisey songbook, and deservedly so. With such sparse musical backing the focus will naturally settle on the vocal performance and lyrics – and both are in top form here. An apt comparison would be Antony singing Morrisey inspired lyrics – but that doesn’t really do it justice. Key lyrics: “Satan grant me this wish / And you’re welcome to my soul / Because / I want to choose when I sleep alone”
Where There Are Pixels – A stunning affirmation of life and never giving up. The music starts out as subdued piano work before moving onto a rousing anthem with Rossiter singing the title in dramatic fashion. Key lyrics: “I bear the torch / I hold it high / It burns a flame / for those who tried”
Drop Anchor – the single from the record would be a huge hit in an alternate universe – it features emotional singing and an instantly memorable melody. Piano is the only backing – but when it is expertly performed as it is here, it’s all that is needed. The video embedded at the bottom of this review really drives the metaphors of the song home. Key lyrics: ” Now I’ve made up my mind / No, I’m not blind / It’s with you I will collide”
I’ve chosen 4 songs, but honestly – every song on this record is stunning. The music reminds me of the demos John Lennon was cutting in the late 70’s – heartbreaking ballads on piano. The lyrics are witty with a bit of black humor. Beauty isn’t always easily explained but when we see or hear it we know in our heart what it is. This record for me was one of those moments. It is available at all the major digital retailers – make sure to support this artistic endeavor by picking up a copy.
Verdict: St. Martin Delivers
For Fans of: Antony & the Johnsons, John Lennon, The Smiths, Morrissey, Blur
01 Three Points on a Compass
02 I Want To Choose When I Sleep Alone
03 No One Left To Blame
04 Sing It Loud
05 Where There Are Pixels
06 I Must Be Jesus
07 My Heart’s Designed for Pumping Blood
08 Drop Anchor
09 Darling Sorrow
10 Let the Waves Carry You