Review Summary: There is no clear agenda, there is no safe retreat; there's just the lengthy process of filling in the you-shaped hole in me.
Concept albums rule. Human society's reliance on technology, the first human clone, American idiots, Gilles de Rais, the four elements, the Black Parade, Earth's tonal output as it orbits the sun, the disillusionment of modern youth, Madame Butterfly, the live performance of an alter-ego band, the end of the world, the start of the world. Is there anything left to cover?
But to label Gavin Castleton's Home
in that simplistic manner would be wholly wrong, in the same way that his own description of the music here as 'popera' was both a little bit silly and entirely too basic to do it justice. Home has a lot more about it than basically anything released since the turn of the millennium, as it plays host to heartbreak, wit, twists, intelligence, nuance, beauty and loss with a confidence and brilliance so rare it makes you wonder why half the world hasn't heard of the man behind it. This record has been classified by critics, fans and the artist himself as a variety of sub-genres related to pop, but despite its hooky melodies and quirky soundbites there is nothing radio-friendly about any of it.
It's almost criminal to reveal the concept of the album to somebody who hasn't yet heard it, but it should suffice to say that the real story Castleton has to tell has little to do with the undead. Couple that with the presence of his ex-girlfriend Lauren Coleman, providing vocals on a large number of songs, and you're left with probably the most inventive and emotional idea presented in recent musical history. Climactic and presented as a stunning narrative, the amount of work and thought that Home displays is enviable to say the least.
All of this means nothing, of course, if the music is unimpressive, but it does far more than hold its own: it's fair to say that Castleton has an incredible appreciation of so many musical genres which clearly include trip-hop, jazz, classical and rock and everything in between. The simulated heartbeat on Oregon...
combined with the album's most aggressive vocal performance (but by no means its only passionate one) gives rise to an intensity which is broken only by a chorus of ladybirds offering the protagonist an epiphany. Sound ridiculous? It is. It's ambitious and covers so much lyrical and musical ground that it simply should not work as a cohesive entity, but it peaks and dips, speeds up and slows down, changes direction and still knows when to keep going, like on penultimate track The Human Torch
which is great mid-tempo soft-rock throughout despite the presence of a xylophone, near-tribal drums and electronics.
But maybe the best thing about Home is its replay value. There's angst, reflection, celebration, love, drama through its 14 tracks and the diversity of the material, joined with its consistent brilliance with the slight exception of an arguably weaker middle section, makes it a perfectly plausible idea to press play again as soon as Credits
fades out. There are french horns, orchestras, acoustic guitars, grand pianos and two talented vocalists, and anything too epic or hyperbolic is vindicated by the record's concept. If there's one thing wrong with this album, it's that you absolutely have to immerse yourself in it for it to work. It requires your attention, but if you put the effort in it's a hell of an experience, and experience is definitely the right word.
Home exists as a tribute to pretty much everything good about music. I know how hyped that sounds, and it's by no means a flawless record, but every quality or trait it possesses as a whole is so endearing. So it's ridiculous and imperfect – that's hardly the point. It's clever, it's diverse, it's enjoyable, it's uplifting, and most importantly it represents something so much bigger than a compact disc or flesh-eating zombies, and for that it deserves all the praise in the world.
If you build your love on a black and white chessboard, then there's a very good chance that you'll always be at war