(say something about distant axis) While his bandmate Aaron Dessner was working with superstar Taylor Swift on her excellent folklore album, The National singer Matt Berninger was working on his debut solo album with the legendary Booker T Jones. Originally slated to be an album of mostly covers, instead they started working on a slate of original song ideas that Berninger had.
The title track was released as the first single back in May and lyrically works as a stream of consciousness with a fine vocal melody and horns. Those same horns punctuate “All Or Nothing” where Berninger pleads “Just tell me there are swimming holes in outer space/With train cars at the bottom”. Album opener “My Eyes are T-Shirts” is instrumentally more sparse, voice not much above a whisper singing “my eyes are t-shirts/they’re so easy to read”. On his recordings with The National, Berninger’s lyrics really standout but here they often blend into the music. Booker T adds a nice bit of organ on “One More Second”, the drums add more texture with backing vocals from Gail Ann Dorsey. The five minute length lets the band breathe.
Second single, “Distant Axis” is a more laid back affair but on “Take Me Out of Town”, Berninger allows himself to be vulnerable where he wonders where he’d be without his partner. “I’ve never been so burned out/Gonna lose it any minute/This is about how I feel right now”. There is no chorus on on “Collar of Your Shirt” but Berninger really lets his vocals become more vulnerable as the song builds, mournful violins and additional organ add to the weight. On Serpentine Prison, Matt Berninger and Booker T release a mature album that is consistently solid and frequently very good.
After the break-up of The Beatles in the spring of 1970, John Lennon decamped to America to work on primal therapy before working on the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album. Several months before, Paul McCartney went to his home in St John’s Wood in London and started working on his solo debut album. McCartney appeared one month before The Beatles’ final release; Let It Be. Mostly recorded on his own on a four track, McCartney has a more ragged and less polished effort than the meticulous work The Beatles typically released.
“The Lovely Linda” opens the album and washes over the listener like the breeze from an open window. It disappears as quickly as it came, replaced with a blues riff of “That Would Be Something” that sounds off the cuff and rides a cool groove. “Every Night” speaks to McCartney’s depression of the Beatles’ falling apart where he sings about staying in bed all day and blocking out the outside world.
“Hot As Sun/Glasses” is the first of four instrumentals on the album, a happy tune that changes into the playing of wine rims. “Junk” is a leftover from The Beatles sessions where Macca sings of items found in a junkyard, the track also later appears as an instrumental. “Teddy Boy” is decent leftover from The Beatles trip to India in 1968 that was originally worked on during the Let It Be sessions. “Man We Was Lonely” is a catchy yet throwaway track.
The most popular song here, “Maybe I’m Amazed” was never actually released as a single until several years later as a live version from Wings Over America. The song shows McCartney’s vulnerability in his love for the lovely Linda. “I’m a man, maybe I’m a lonely man/Who’s in the middle of something/that he doesn’t really understand”. The album shows it’s spirit when it follows up one of his most beloved tracks with an inconsequential instrumental. The album has a feel of a really trendy 90s indie rock album, veering from one style to another. While some of it is throwaway, it is always charming as Macca works out the start of his post Beatles life.
The 2011 special version of the album adds seven bonus tracks including outtakes and live versions of “Every Night” and “Hot As Sun”. Two live versions of “Maybe I’m Amazed” appear of which the echoey version from One Hand Clapping gets the nod over a more vocally raw 1979 performance.
Released in 2019, Dublin’s Fontaines D.C. debut was one of the rock albums of the year. Dogrel bristled with punk rock energy while the band toured the globe. Their second album, A Hero’s Death, was written while out on the road. Once again working with producer Dan Carey, this time around several of the tracks are more atmospheric and the sparks from the first album are more toned down with a weariness not previously seen.
Second single, “I Don’t Belong” uses singer Grian Chatten’s voice like an instrument as he changes his approach on several of the lyrics. Here, he sounds tired but ready to bite at any time. The pounding drums announces the beginning of “Love is the Main Thing”, the distorted guitars sound like a freight train coming down the tracks. “Televised Mind” sees Tom Coll’s drums and Conor Deegan’s bass lock in while Chatten sings “swipe your thoughts from Broadway/turn ideals to cabaret/water dreams of yesterday”.
On “Living in America” the band tap into their inner Joy Division with Chatten’s baritone growl doing a solid Ian Curtis impression whereas the guitars of Carlos O’Connell and Conor Curly at the beginning of “A Lucid Dream” recall early Interpol. “Oh Such a Spring” is a softer track, where the people “wish they could go back to spring again”. In this day and age, many of us are looking back to simpler times of early spring before the COVID pandemic started.
The band work in nuances not hear on Dogrel like the background vocals on “Sunny”. The title track was the first single with the band setting the tone with “oooooohhs” before Chatten tells the listener, “life ain’t always empty” and to “tell your mother that you love her/and go out of your way for others”. The “bap bap bap” vocals are sublime. The sparks of the debut don’t burn as bright but A Hero’s Death sees the band successfully moving in different directions.