Review Summary: The sad thing is that, either way, Malinowski is doomed, and so is this album.
A concept album is very hard for any artist to pull off. And nowadays, it's doubly difficult to pull it off than it was back in the 1970s and 1980s, when albums such as Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
, Tales From Topographic Oceans
, or even Kilroy Was Here
were the "in" thing. It takes both a storytelling ability and songwriting ability to be able to pull off well- one good example is Coheed and Cambria, who have a concept discography that tell one continuing science fiction story. But here, we have Jay Malinowski, formerly of reggae band Bedouin Sounclash, telling the story about Charles Martel, his ancestor. A story like that in and of itself puts your project in trouble, because not very many people know about him, and if the press release and advertising campaign (Which may be the most irritating since the Reflektor
campaign- except that album was good) was anything to swear by, it doesn't look like this album will do much to change people's minds.
Predictably, this album doesn't sound anything like Bedouin Soundclash, but takes on an east Celtic vibe and is mostly filled with folksy ballads. The first disc has something of a maritime edge to it- which brings me to mention that each disc that makes up the album is labeled either "Pacific" or "Atlantic". Problem is, Malinowski's storytelling ability is somewhat scatterbrained. It's really hard to tell what he's talking about- there's an idea that on "Pacific", the majority of the songs lyrically focus on stuff such as the faltering mental state if those living on the pacific coast and what not. But his lyrics simply fail to engage. The second disc has a more chamber music edge, and is slightly more interesting. In fact, the album's most interesting tracks are on the disc: "The Tall Shadow From St. Malo", "Set Me Free" and "Up the Cross" are all heavily piano driven and feature some sprinklings of strings and percussion, but the problem is that you have to sit through 15 tracks to get to them.
This isn't by any means bad music, but the problem is that the songs have tons of good ideas, but very flimsy execution. Considering this is the man who gave us tracks like "May You Be The Road", "A Vacant Youth" and "Santa Monica", you'd think that he'd be able to sell us this concept in a way that's engaging- but in the end, it's all mumbo jumbo to most of us. Malinowski's vocals sound pretty mailed in and considering that this was meant to be his passion project, there's tons of potential for him to really deliver, but he misses the mark constantly. Luckily, his backing band, the Deadcost, manages to make up for it with some excellent playing, and Chuck Ragan manages to impress with some excellent flamenco guitar playing in what might be one of the better tracks in this mess of an album, "Carnival Celebration #2".
The biggest problem with this album is that, scatterbrained and mediocre music aside, it's hard for anyone who had pirate ancestors to care for this album (Martel was apparently a pirate as well, and as a reward for aiding the Brits to victory in a war, was granted the land that became Cape Breton). The concept being hard to sell enough as it is, Malinowski is apparently writing a novel about Martel as well, which leads me to think that Martel
would possibly work better as either a novel or CBC documentary. There's moments where the music shines, and that you're certain there's going to be a real interesting moment coming up, but then the album just goes off into a tangent and fails to spark interest. While I wouldn't call this album completely "self indulgent", there are moments where it certainly feels like it. I'm interesting in seeing where Malinowski goes after this album, but because of my slight bias, I'm thinking he may have nowhere to go but back to Bedouin Soundclash.