Review Summary: The former Gene frontman's first solo work is by turns funny, poignant and sweet, but a little more variety would not have hurt.
It wasn't the done thing to show vulnerability in the laddish mid-90s landscape of Cool Britannia. Any band daring to bare its bruised and tortured soul was more likely to be trampled under Suede's overt, sexy glamour, beneath the Gallaghers' mountain of beerish, boory quotes, below Blur's literate, easygoing charm than to enjoy lasting success. Yet against all these odds, Gene, purveyors of jangly, Smithsian guitar lines and lovelorn, self-aware lyrics, prospered, going on to oh so quietly sell over a million records. Then, as the decade faded to black, as Oasis imploded in a champagne supernova of drugs and infighting and Albran's talents took him far from Britpop's heartlands, Martin Rossiter's band passed quietly into the annals of obscurity.
It took until the early summer of 2012 for Rossiter to return. When he did, he brought with him just a voice that had matured and gained in potency with the years and a piano. But my, what a piano! On 'Three Points On a Compass', three lilting chords propel eight minutes of childhood catharsis, as Rossiter aims not only the kitchen sink but the oven and cupboards too at his wantaway father. The only complaint is that at the aforementioned eight minutes it does feel a tocuh overlong, especially for an album opener. But given how long its author has been away, a little clemency should surely be granted him.
Deeply honest lyricism pervades the entire album: 'I Want To Choose when I Sleep Alone' rattles with middle-aged fear and longing. These are songs that the youthful Gene-era Rossiter could not have written. 'My Heart's Designed for Pumping Blood' drips languorously with self-hatred, as Rossiter pleads with a lover not to get too close. And yet, on 'Drop Anchor' he's willing 'The one I'm sat beside' to 'Drop anchor with me'. Here he lets the full power of his voice loose, imbuing a single line of chorus with more genuine melancholy and desire than most artists can hope to achieve in a career. Completing this devastating late-album triptych comes 'Darling Sorrow', a tale of two would be suicide cases who fall oh-so-briefly in love.
If there is a criticism of these songs, it surely lies in their lack of variety. There is no doubting the sheer beauty of Rossiter's voice nor the strength of his musical arrangements , but after one bruisingly poignant ballad after another the effect is somewhat lessened. Only on 'I Must Be Jesus', which in its themes and self-deprecation veers dangerously close to that other contemporary master of the confessional, John Grant, is there a changeup. Still, it seems bittersweet at worst to have to suffer through too much beauty. After all these years, it feels comforting to have that once-familiar voice back: given the quality on show here, let's hope he doesn't make us wait another decade.