Review Summary: Fionn Regan's debut album, 'The End of History', is a twisted, majestic, break-out singer-songwriter record; his 'Either/Or', his 'For Emma', even, daresay, his 'Freewheelin' Bob Dylan'.
Irishman Fionn Regan's debut album consists of a collection of songs which fuse Elliott Smith's talent for writing enchanting guitar parts, Bon Iver's poetic imagery, and more traditional folk structures that recall Dylan. Like those artists, Regan possesses an incredible ability to somehow compress years of experiences and ideas into a single, coherent work.
The record kicks off with a classic folk-style track, 'Be Good or Be Gone', which, while the most immediate of the songs featured, eventually reveals itself as the weakest, as it fails to evolve in any significant way before it falls into the brilliant second song, 'The Underwood Typewriter'. The lilting fingerpicked guitar that serves as the tune's intro recalls Smith's 'Memory Lane', if only because of its incredibly gorgeous complexity. As Fionn's voice climbs into the mix, it is hard not to be moved by the sheer beauty of what he has created. The hushed chorus makes a nice contrast with most folk songs' build to a crescendo, and Fionn's request to his lover - 'step out of your dress/and I'll wear you like a hood/for a hood is a home' -could be seen as a metaphor for the lonely search for comfort that the entire album is preoccupied with.
The female characters in Regan's world seem to constantly enchant and bemuse him, as he seeks the hooded home he describes in the second song. The vocal melody takes centre-stage in 'Hey Rabbit', as Regan describes a lover lost - 'the girl who collects shells/has gone back to the coast' and laments the fact that he could not 'pull a diamond/from [his] sleeve' to retain her.
But it is the album's remarkable centrepiece, 'Put a Penny in the Slot', which best depicts the broken romantic who narrates Regan's work. Touching on themes of confusion and isolation, he again returns to his notion of a lover as a way to understand the overwhelming happenings of the world. Describing himself as 'the drunken sailor boy', Regan, in his pure singer's voice, discards all his poetic leanings in favour of a clear lyric, made all the more powerful by the use of a high, floating harmony - 'she will not let you be her lover/she goes out looking for the taxi/her phone is ringing straight to message minder/send out a battallion to find her'. If you don't know true heartbreak, you will once you hear the bridge of this song.
If Regan had been able to maintain the extremely high quality of the first two-thirds of the album (up to and including the sparse suicide lament 'The Cowshed') until its finish, then he would have unquestionably received five stars from this reviewer. Unfortunately, however, the album drags slightly towards the end, with songs like 'Snowy Atlas Mountains', the title track, and 'Bunker or Basement', while not at all filler, unable to match the incredibly high standard set earlier on. It is likely that by this stage, you will look to skip directly to the penultimate track, 'Abacus', another beautiful lament to pursuing a love that can never be caught.
While the album may be slightly over-long, and could be seen by some to lack variety in tempo, it is hard to imagine that any music lover who listens to it would not recognise the immense ability of Fionn Regan, who combines poetic, affecting lyricism, brilliant guitar-playing, and simply divine singing to forge a debut album that falls only a little short of sublime. Hopefully, like Smith and Dylan, and possibly Bon Iver, Regan is able to follow-up his stunning debut with an even more finely crafted work - one that gains the recognition his talent demands.