Sunday, 5 April 2015

REVIEW: Stephen Jones - 'No Message' (BandCamp)

Describing your own album as "an undiscovered gem" may seem a bit egotistical in some people's eyes, but at least Stephen Jones isn't lying. The brains behind Babybird is known for his prolific workrate, but hadn't released an album of "words and music" in over three years. Now, three come along within the same month.

Following on from the magnificent 'Meloncholy' (which is reviewed HERE) and last week's 'Outsider', 'No Message' is the final installment of the trilogy, written, recorded and released in the space of a week. After spells with Echo Records in the 90s and American label Unison Music, Jones now finds himself working as a 100% DIY artist and can see that the fast pace of the internet age means that a lot of music has a "short lifespan". 

The opening 'Now Is So Yesterday' is like a more spacious relative of the glorious 2000 single 'Out Of Sight', while the pretty 'That Love' showcases a major strength for heartbreakingly sweet piano ballads and 'First Boyfriend' pairs ominous sadness with sharp spells of humour and charms as Jones's voice cracks vulnerably on the chorus. While the excellent 'Anchor' is a sinister, unsettling thing built on seedy hip hop beats and bleak piano, the glorious 'To Live It Again' plays at the other end of the extreme, providing a moment of sensual melancholic bliss. It's hard not to be touched when Jones sings the words "life, i don't wanna live it again, I'm fine with the way that it is". Humble, sincere musical majesty from the man who rejected pop stardom in favour of creativity and musical invention. Like much of 'No Message', it effortlessly demonstrates that gift for coining melodies that ring with such clarity, that you're sure you've heard them somewhere before.

The haunting title track makes you wonder whether Jones is playing with us or not when he sings that "there is no message in the words", while the infectious 'Zombie Song' brings up more twisted, dark humour and delivers another highlight. The gorgeous 'Wrong Place' wraps the listener in the soft glow of elegantly crafted melodies, enchanting with its soaring chorus and lovely, downplayed arrangement. Another one of his finest moments. The shadowy, foreboding 'I Forgot To Enjoy My Life' evokes memories of Babybird's finest album, the underrated 1998 masterpiece 'There's Something Going On', and is the product of similarly high quality songwriting, while the ghostly ambience of the closing 'Too Late' evokes a cinematic feel that brings to mind a full-bodied relative of the atmospheric instrumental music Jones has released under his Black Reindeer alias.

Built largely on piano and subtle loops, it's an album that in terms of instrumentation, lets the songs breathe and allows the vocal melodies to fully captivate. Being completely in control of your artistic output is certainly a blessing, but it also means that exposure and promotion are limited mainly to Jones' social media accounts. Perhaps he should hold back from releasing any more music for a little while, in order to give this album (and its two predecessors) time to grow. Because it certainly deserves to be heard far and wide. 8.3/10

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