Review Summary: Death and hard-ons succumb to Teenage Fanclub and Black Tambourine on Dan Willson's sophomore.Good News
, Dan Willson's full-length bow as Withered Hand was by most counts a folk record; a cult gem which shot to underground hearts via tales of death, spirituality and sprinkling of raging boners. In a way, its success can be gaged by the fact that it's taken the Edinburgh native five years to construct what he deems a worthy follow-up - yet given that extended time lapse there's a certain inevitability in the way the eventual product rings the changes. Indeed, whereas New Gods
' cover indicates a continuation of the wry miseralism which punctuated his debut, reality is perhaps more accurately depicted by a cursory glance through its credits. Listing guest contributions from the likes of Eugene Kelly (The Vaselines), Pam Berry (Black Tambourine) and Chris Geddes (Belle & Sebastian), they carry many a nod to the Scottish scene from which he takes such inspiration, but moreover bear the unmistakably sweet (and some may even use the dreaded word - "twee") imprint of indie pop.
Betraying its predecessors raw, lo-fi gravitas, the polished opening strums of 'Horseshoe' serve only to reinforce this impression, effectively precursing what transpires into an unforeseen spurt of jubilance. Together with the lingering whiff of Teenage Fanclub, there's a shot of Byrdsiness in 'Black Tambourine's jangly exuberance, dashes of accordion in the sun-kissed 'King of Hollywood' and even a spate of shameless anthemism in the case of the skyscraping 'Fall Apart.' It's a pretty drastic departure, and one which can sound awkward upon initiation, yet thanks to the depth and versatility of Willson's writing these fresh turns come off a treat - although many may find the more pensive second half to be the album's endearing apex.
Lacking the tortured underbelly so prevalent on Good News
, the songs in this section project an air of comfort that's reflected in their graceful arrangements, even if they compromise the previous uptempo surge. 'Between Love and Ruin' and 'Not Alone,' for instance rest on a glorious phlanx of horns for their melodic spine, while the halcyon title track's "do-do-do-dodododo" chorus masks what may in fact be the collection's most touching moment. Clearly, this simplicity hardly epitomises the record's lyrical front, with that duty instead falling to early standout 'Love Over Desire.' In particular, its definitive line "I put my hand in my pocket / damn, forgot about the travel pussy / another flower on the coffin of monogamy" encapsulates in a nutshell the motif of settling down which runs rife throughout - along with odes to the blissful youth of days gone by.
Considering he's closing in on 40, it'd be condescending to call this a process of maturing. Instead, much like Good News
's reflections on mortality, it's simply an indication of where Willson's life stands at present; married with children, seeking to balance the demands of family with those of being a professional musician. Where that concrete base carries him in the future remains to be seen, but you can bet it'll make for delightful listening, regardless of whether it takes another half-decade to surface.