Mick Harvey - Sketches From The Book Of The Dead
Did you know that "the story of love is an eternal thing," as Mick Harvey shares with us on "Frankie T. (Frankie C.)?" I guess every Brit is allowed to have his/her Greg Lake, Baroque composer impulse. Roll Over Vaughn Williams, indeed. Not that Harvey, long a member of Nick Cave's Bad Seeds, is a stranger to the grand gothic gesture. The issue here is that many of the songs on "Sketches From the Book of the Dead" are played with a, well, dead serious quality that belies all his years helping create literate, spiritual and ironic music.
Most of these songs are dark and dreamlike, with simple instrumentation that helps create stark shadows and echoes. Harvey's guitar and occasional drumming has long proven him a master at such moods. In that sense he far from disappoints: there are many stunning songs, beautiful in melody and word, especially " How Would I Leave You," "11 Famous Last Words," "Two Paintings (by Gustav Pillig)" and "Rhymeless" are about as evocative and poetic as Harvey has ever gotten in his solo work. Here Harvey's half spoken vocals are perfect in sustaining the mood create by the lyrics. That doesn't always work.
With monotone and repetition, Harvey guides us through a series of story-songs about specific people doing specific things that seem to be interesting and deep but really aren't. "The Bells Never Rang," "That's All Paul, and "The Ballad of Jay Givens" don't ring as true, as stories or as moody ballads.
Some slack is warranted here. "Sketches From the Book of the Dead" is the first record with lyrics written entirely by Harvey, so there was bound to be some hit and miss. When he is on, Mick Harvey delivers the goods well enough. The misses just show what can go wrong when you try and stretch out an idea one too many times. This is a good record by someone we've come to trust, who may have needed someone to collaborate with this time around.
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