Review Summary: Hot on the heels of In the Red's recent album, Mike Hale has produced a heartfelt second solo effort, where melancholy and heartbreak collide with beautiful, stripped down instrumentals.
A couple of months ago, I reviewed In the Red
's Volume 2
, noting in particular the dark, melodic vocal stylings and downbeat, introverted lyrics of vocalist (and ex-Gunmoll
mastermind) Mike Hale. The album arrived shortly after the painful breakup of Mike's marriage, and understandably this was reflected in the lyrics, but evidently the catharsis those songs provided was not enough as, mere weeks after the release of Volume 2
, and in keeping with Mike's new life as a full-time musician of no-fixed-abode, he was right back in the studio recording his second solo album, Lives Like Mine
Some might question the wisdom of recording two albums in such quick sucession, but thankfully, Lives Like Mine
features very little in the way of filler, and comes off like a subtler, more subdued brother to Volume 2
. However, it must be said from the get-go that this album is categorically NOT all sunshine, lollipops and kittens; every word is dripping with sadness, every song mourning a lost relationship and the feelings of heartbreak that follow it. Ordinarily this sort of description might put you off the idea of listening to an album, but Mike Hale is far from ordinary - every line is sung as if it's his last, full of emotion and honesty. Take the chorus of the title-track, one of the album's best:
"What do you say when you realise you're not necessary
And your world starts caving in?
Hate doesn't make the nights less cold in this lonely condition;
You fold, you crumble, withdraw deeper inside
Disposable lives like mine..."
Lines like these, and many others to be found throughout the album, and even the artwork (which shows the character depicted on the front of many of Mike's albums drowning in a swamp, his heart cut out, with a crow on his shoulder) all genuinely tug at the heartstrings, the grief and hopelessness coming through clear as day. This mood is magnified by the music itself - stripped down and intimate, for the most part consisting of only Mike's voice and acoustic guitar, with occasional ethereal backing harmonies courtesy of Allyson Seconds to sweeten the deal. Despite the simplicity of the music, things never get boring, with Mike varying the tempo, rhythm and picking style from song to song, and occasionally swapping the guitar for lilting piano melodies. There's nothing in the way of virtuoso showboating here, but there doesn't need to be; the subtlety of the backing music, the strength of Mike's songwriting and his way with a vocal melody draw the listener in, and keeps them hanging on every word.
Personal highlights include the aforementioned title track (Mike and Allyson's beautiful vocal harmonies during the chorus never fail to make the spine tingle), the rolling guitar melodies of "Red Tide," and the slightly more upbeat, determined-sounding and yet pissed off "If You Wanted to Know," with its subtle groove rhythm and handclap percussion, but having said that, I can't imagine not listening to the album from start to finish - it works so well as a whole and flows perfectly right through to the closing seconds of "How to Walk Away," the gentle piano instrumental closing track. In Lives Like Mine
, Mike Hale has truly made one of the most heartfelt and affecting albums I've heard in a long time; I've listened to it nightly since I got it, something I don't see changing anytime soon, and I'd urge you to do the same.