Review Summary: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
There’s a lot of albums out there that take their name from a famous city, state or region, and in most cases the relationship between that locale and the musical content held within remains completely arbitrary; if the artist had never made the association then you the listener would never have got there on your own. Not so with proud Irishman Perry Blake’s ‘California’…and yes, I know what you’re thinking, he’s Irish, how authentic can this sound？ Well you see, there’s the thing, this album never intends to sound like the ‘real California’ so much as a residual notion that lingers in the back of all our minds; a Hollywood-informed luxurious, somewhat decadent place, but one that also bears the heavy heart of failed romance and and an inescapable all-pervading sense of faded glamour. The songs here are deeply evocative, romantic, cinematic…but they feel lost, cast adrift from any set specific period of time.
What helps draw the listener into this strange faded fantasy postcard world is the everyman nature of the story this album tells; you may not have moved to California but you’ve probably moved town, started anew, seen things aren’t quite what you had assumed before you arrived. This clever device is probably most obvious on one of the album’s standout tracks, ‘Morning Song’, where Blake tries to reassure himself that all is well in his new environs with the comforting mantra 'pick up the papers, put on your clothes, everything seems just like it used to be.’ Of course even that simple routine is now itself outdated and fading into the mists of time before our eyes; who gets a paper delivered in 2019？It already seems like something from an old movie you once watched, just another out of step memory contained in the head of some ‘middle aged man in slacks’.
The music itself does an expert job of building the exact desired dreamy atmosphere, one that leaves the listener floating through the day in their own blissful cotton wool state, half removed from reality. Bacharach style string swells add a sense of sweet melancholia and romantic nostalgia whenever they surface, but make the strongest impression on album highlights like the straightforwardly titled ‘Pretty Love Song’ and the sunset fade of an album closer ‘Venus of the Canyon’. The compositions are always rich and heavily textured but never overbearing or unpleasantly saccharine, which is quite the achievement considering the ingredients Blake is working with. His croon and falsetto may be a sticking point for some, but again his handling of his vocal contributions is to my mind tasteful, the wistful quality he lands on highly effective. The two albums Blake released before this one both boasted more grounded chamber production styles and were more overtly classic in the expected singer/song writer art rock mould, but despite the contrived thematic/musical curveball, it’s ‘California’ that feels like it comes from the truer place and plays to the artist's biggest strengths.