By BRUCE DENNILL
Refractory Folk, Or Sophisticated Scrutiny
Mark Nevin: My Unfashionable Opinion
Mark Nevin is probably still best known as the songwriter behind Perfect, the biggest hit from influential folk band Fairground Attraction, of which he was a founding member. That song, though it had a cheerful, rollicking melody, featured a bit of a grimace behind the grin, and Nevin has retained that ability to hide an iron fist in a velvet glove.
One of the themes evident in new collection My Unfashionable Opinion is a sensible distrust of living online in general and of social media in particular. The title track pulls no punches, stating that discretion, when possessed of “an unfashionable opinion”, suggests “no logging on, no mouthing off.” Later, his suggestion that someone “get their PhD in similarity and never laugh again”, drips with cynicism, which is, happily, tempered by an ebullient organ solo and a marimba or glockenspiel sequence that sounds like the waking-up jingle of one of the major computer operating systems.
Only Dreamers (Live The Dream) sounds a bit like Joe Jackson covering Jackson Brown backed by Dire Straits, which is a reasonable way to describe his sound generally. It’s a shuffling story song, coated in crisp acoustic guitars that thoughtfully and whimsically considers the difference between dreamers and doers. Clown is a quiet, Seventies-style ballad, capturing the pathos of troubled relationship via the metaphor of a character who’s ostensibly supposed to make you laugh but has a frown painted on their face.
Sing Anyway sticks with that art-inflected perspectives, placing singing – or music – as the light at the end of a number of dark tunnels. It has a gently nagging instrumental hook that originates in the intro and is reiterated throughout the song, and has an immediately likeable pop melody that makes it an obvious choice as a single – one of the best of the year.
The above trio of songs all feature autobiographical hints, but Punching Above My Weight is more direct, with Nevin recalling his childhood and the lessons learned from bumps and bruises, applied usefully in later life.
Forgotify returns to the conundrum of living in the digital age, when inventions that are supposed to streamline our lives either complicate matters or make simple actions functionally impossible. Nevin quotes a statistic about there being four million songs on Spotify (the music streaming service), that nobody ever listens to. He – and many other music lovers who prefer their music in a more tangible format – understands that this is not necessarily because these songs are bad, but are ignored because listeners have too many options and an attention span deficit. His directive to “do some archeology on Forgotify” sounds like it’d be enjoyable to respond to, and the cheerful Dr John-esque groove supports that relatively jaunty tone. Uncertainty is not much less chirpy musically, but as its name suggests, its lyric is more pensive.
The Stars Align might accurately be termed “indie folk” in the contemporary market, but it arguably shares its unconventional song structure, which features small, clever key and tempo changes with compositions from the Seventies – Leo Sayer’s work comes to mind – when it was okay to ignore formulae without risking pariah status.
Don’t Be My Echo is a perceptive way to caution a partner against giving up to much of their own character when growing closer to someone. Curly Wurly Boy then recalls Van Morrison at his least grumpy pop zenith with a singalong ode to a youngster (again, possibly with a touch of self-examination) who didn’t want to settle for the life mapped out for him, working in a factory, wearing an overall.
Cold War is another relationship song (a category distinct from love songs) about wanting to work through the challenges of being with and in love with someone you’re fighting with and struggling with the ways of doing that – therapy included – that may not feel like a good fit. Closer I Can Hear You continues in a similar vein, an unflinching, mature musing on the nature of communicating with a loved one.
This is superior songwriting from an artist who crafts compositions rather than just combining a number of resources he happens to have at his disposal. The result is a collection of remarkable consistency. My Unfashionable Opinion provides a stirring, stimulating listen the first time around, and much to unpick and immerse yourself in as you become more intimate with the songs.
- My Unfashionable Opinion 7.75
- Only Dreamers (Live The Dream) 7.75
- Clown 7.75
- Sing Anyway 8.50
- Punching Above My Weight 7.50
- Forgotify 7.75
- Uncertainty 7.00
- The Stars Align 8.00
- Don’t Be My Echo 7.75
- Curly Wurly Boy 8.00
- Cold War 7.50
- I Can Hear You 7.50