Review Summary: Something valuable.
By all historical accounts, I should not like Woodkid’s The Golden Age
As a young man, I was utterly convinced that appreciation of classical music was the greatest hoax played upon the younger generations by the old. It was a sign of prestige, purportedly a fascination for the more astute among us; it connotated intellect and pedigree. Yet no matter how I tried, I was always incapable of pulling something human, something emotionally relevant out of its gnarled anachronism, instead finding it to be full of bombast and sweeping, grand movements that magnified any human element to such a degree that they became lost in the surrounding vastness. When I found myself confronted with The Golden Age
all I had heard described it as a departure from Woodkid’s relatively intimate Iron
EP and it worried me, Iron
itself a sprawling yet precise orchestral single toeing the line between restraint and excess, showcasing a potential to go too far.
Thankfully, even in its more grandiose moments, The Golden Age
rarely crosses that line. While the orchestra is undeniably present, it’s hardly abused; instead, the instrumentation acts as punctuation to Yoann Lemoine’s somber, affected vocals, his accented English drifting through each song in a way that will be immediately familiar to those acquainted with Antony Hegarty’s work. This isn’t to say that the instrumentals are ineffective or unremarkable--to the contrary, Lemoine illustrates that he’s as talented with visual direction as he is aural, his more cinematic leanings translating remarkably well into the format of pure sound. Tracks such as The Great Escape
, a triumphant, rollicking ride out of the darker leanings of the first two tracks (The Golden Age
and the second single off of the album, Run Boy Run
) are carried along by unrelenting percussion, Lemoine’s voice keeping in time as the fanfare slows, allowing him to tell more of his story. Others are carried by Lemoine himself--while not the most profoundly talented vocalist he sings with conviction and vision, Conquest of Spaces
a testament to his willingness to pit himself against his orchestration as he juxtaposes his own winding vocals alongside a thriving wind section.
Out of the singles, Run Boy Run
is largely the weakest, but its significance isn’t in the sound. Rather, Run Boy Run
stands out as one of the most distinct introductions to the story Lemoine is telling with this album. The Golden Age
is, ultimately, an album about escape from antiquity, and reclamation of the individual amongst that escape. The title track, while establishing an age of peace and prosperity as its subject, ends with the warning that “the golden age is over.” This is soon followed by both exultations of freedom and the mournings of diaspora in both Run Boy Run
and The Great Escape
before trading in the orchestra for a subdued set of horns as Lemoine croons “we threw our hearts into the sea, forgot all of our memories” in Boat Song
. This, in turn, brings us to one of the strongest offerings on the album, the tremendously raw I Love You
. While this album can be criticized for forsaking some of what made the Iron
EP so intimate, I Love You
stands out of a near-perfect synthesis of the two poles Woodkid’s work oscillates between, both intimate and grand, made all the more potent by his heartfelt, straightforward lyrics.
The first third of the album moves quickly--as, thematically, it should--but it slows somewhat abruptly near some of the more low-key, lyrically dense tracks, which may inadvertently cause many listeners to gloss over them without giving them the attention they deserve. The Shore
, Ghost Lights
, and Shadows
are all understated in the face of the rest of the album, and while Stabat Mater
builds appropriately for the final third, the middle still feels like it was never properly introduced. I Love You
overshadows the otherwise wonderful The Shore
as they’re too conceptually similar, even if they’re both perfectly relevant. Ghost Lights
builds beautifully but is relatively sparse, relying heavily on a chorus that feels a bit too long, and Shadows
is the intermission needed after the boisterous first few tracks, come a bit too late.
The Golden Age
ends as strongly as began--Conquest of Spaces
and the original single Iron
stand out, helping to satiate the yearning for more bombast developed by the earliest songs. But the most potent moments of the album come from Where I Live
and The Other Side
, as both are both filled with lamentations, the progression of the album conceptually leading to a regretful, despairing place, closing with “and in the arms of an endless anger, will end the story of a soldier in the dark.” The invested listener is rewarded with an involved, intimate story being told, but not with hope. In form, Woodkid’s The Golden Age
is an album I should dislike--all my past experiences associate a dense, centrally-placed orchestra with unfeeling obscurity, with fanfare that represents heroic idolatries rather than human realities. The Golden Age
is, for all of its bombast and grandness, a vulnerable, personal affair, a movement away from the past that similarly borrows from it, a dirge, and a reclamation. This may not be the best album you listen to this year, but given all that it does right and more remarkably, differently, it still remains important.