Review Summary: And just when things are looking up, Fitzsimmons drops a dud.
Many of us fully expected to group William Fitzsimmons’ latest with the best that 2011 has yet to offer in the singer-songwriter field, namely with Kurt Vile
’s Smoke Ring For My Halo
and of course PJ Harvey
’s Let England Shake
, yet Gold In The Shadow
is not the collection of melodramatic and emotive tunes we had hoped it would be. Instead, broken Fitz-y has gone the way of that other famous, whispering beard, Iron & Wine
’s Sam Bean, offering us what is essentially his weakest album thus far.
The audio portrayal of heartbreak and loss has always been Fitzsimmons’ shtick in the past – damn the guy was just so
good at making us cry on 2006 home-recorded classics Goodnight
and especially Until When We Are Ghosts
. So when the mental therapist announced early this year that Gold
was “a real and long coming confrontation with personal demons, past mistakes and the spectre of mental illness which has hovered over [himself] for the great majority of [his] life,” more than a few skeptic eyebrows were raised, including yours truly.
Fitz-y in a happy setting, or even in a hopeful one, did not sound so good on paper, and on Gold
, it really isn’t. For one thing, the man still
sounds sad, and if you knew nothing about the background of the album before having listened you would assume that songs “Psychasthenia” and “The Winter From Her Leaving” were just b-sides taken from his last studio effort, the b-grade The Sparrow and the Crow
, the former draped in Edge-like guitar echo with Fitzsimmons crooning, “Cut me open, please”. Happy and hopeful, right" Indeed, my thoughts exactly.
It’s the similarities to Fitzsimmons’ past albums here, both in the melodies and
even the female harmonizing roles that give Gold
the most trouble in the end, though. Light electronic dabs as on “Fade and Then Return” and “Let You Break” are picked right from Fitzsimmons’ better tracks, Goodnight
’s “Afterall” and especially “Please Don’t Go”, and the tracks that have some promise, such as the sweeping strings of “Bird of Winter Prey”, are underplayed and too few. “Beautiful Girl” even sounds incomplete, cutting off suddenly during its typical instrumentation of Fitzsimmon’s picking his acoustic guitar, and “Tied To Me” may very well be the worst vocal melody that Fitzsimmons has ever come up with, clashing awkwardly with his instrumentation, the song boring all the way through with its lumbering pace.
Keep sad and go back home seems to be the doctor’s orders for Fitzsimmons and his songwriting career at this point. In truth, the studio has done little for the production values of his albums anyway – his first home-recorded album, 2006’s Until When We Are Ghosts
, sounds even better than both Gold
and 2009’s Sparrow
. And it’s almost like it’s done even worse for the songwriter’s inspiration. Fitz-y for so long thrived off his own emotional pain, using heartbreaking melodies and memorable, if simple, guitar progressions and instrumentals as his outlet, giving us his best music in the past. But now, he’s hopeful, and it’s evident on Gold
that he just can’t channel the same degree of inspiration into his music effectively. It all sounds recycled, underdeveloped, and as odd as it may be, but telling, too, the music almost sounds like it were just wishing
to be sad again.