published: 10 Jun 2002 in Albums
Having only come into contact with one other artistfrom Peter Gabriel‘s Real World Records stable, therather underwhelming Pina, I was not overly excitedabout listening to Joseph Arthur’s new album. Muchmore well known in his native USA, he is in fact oneof the odd ones out at Real World, being a mainstreamEnglish language artist rather than a ‘worldmusician’. Let me say that Joseph Arthur is a highly talented musician, andRedemption’s Son is an album well worth buying. Inevitably, though, there is a but.
From what I have read and been told about the processof making an album, the individuals involved in makingthe record go to the studio taking approximatelytwenty songs with them. They record these songs, andthen choose the best ten or so, which are put on thealbum, while the rest become B-sides. I can imaginethe process of choosing songs to get rid of can bevery difficult, especially considering the care andcraft that has gone into them.
Now I mention all this because it seems that JosephArthur got to the stage of having to select tracks toput on Redemption’s Son, but then just said , “Sod it,I’m off down the pub”. The album consists of sixteen tracks, and has a running time of an hour and a quarter.No matter who the album is by, a record that laststhat long is inevitably going to suffer from being sounreasonably… well, long.
Infuriatingly, the album is already trying to do toomuch. While Arthur’s previous record, Come To WhereI’m From was produced by the legendary T BoneBurnett, the production on this record is at timestruly dreadful. The production tries totake the songs in directions which are at odds withthe very essence of the songs themselves.
On top of this, many tracks use a grating drum machine, not to mention an abundance ofharmonies of the banal type.
Comparisonshave been made with Beck, Gomez, Leonard Cohen,Counting Crows and The Dave Matthews Band, and itseems that here Arthur is trying to please fans of allthese bands, and more people besides.
All attempts to manufacture a poppy side to the recordare dismal failures. Rather it is on the more folksysongs, with simple production and either a band orjust Arthur on his guitar, that the songs really work.The tragic thing is that there are no bad songs at allon this album, it is rather the way that they areinterpreted which is so dubious.
As for paring the album down, there are possibly tengreat tracks on Redemption’s Son. Many of these comein the latter part of the album, following the epiccentral track, Termite Song, a track whichdemonstrates just what Arthur can achieve when he goesback to his troubadour roots, and sticks withsimplicity.
While I cannot recommend it unconditionally, what Ican say is that there is an incredible record waitinginside Redemption’s Son. All you have to do is be awee bit creative. So go buy it, listen to it, and putthose great tracks on a tape, leaving the duds behind.And then listen to that tape. What you hear will besomething truly splendid. It could even be one of thebest albums of the year.