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Weather forecast: rain doo-wops

Daniel Kodsi
Daniel Kodsi
Hi, I am Chairman of OSPL, Cherwell's publishing house. I was editor during Michaelmas 2016. I read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Balliol College and can be reached at [email protected]

The winds howl, the bells chime and the rain falls.

It’s rain on a gloomy night, a storm in pitch-black darkness. But then “it’s alright.” The shadows start to dissipate, vanishing away in wisps.

More Rain, M. Ward’s eighth solo album, isn’t really about rain at all. It’s about the comfort of the hearth, confessional and well, other people. It’s a record that is – dare I say it? – upbeat and warm. Who knew that M. Ward had it in him?

M. Ward has always been an artist obsessed: obsessed with timelessness, perfection, the crispness of blending boundaries. More Rain was initially intended as an ode to doowop, easy-going and easy-listening.

But then as he put it to Glide, the creation process started to snowball. Peter Buck of R.E.M., Neko Case and k.d. lang feature; the doo-wop became M. Ward’s trademark mix of blues and folk and a bit of rock’n’roll.

Yet here’s the difference between More Rain and M. Ward’s earlier work. Transfiguration of Vincent makes its mark with the one-two gut punch of ‘Vincent O’Brien’ and ‘Sad, Sad Song’ – “He only laughs when he’s sad, and he’s sad all the time so he laughs the whole night through.”

But the strongest track pairing on More Rain? The tremendous ‘Confession’ – “There’s a place you can hide when they’re conspiring against you: confession” and its reassuring counterpoise, ‘I’m Listening’.

“Listening,” because on these tracks, for this half hour, the roles of artist and listener are switched. M. Ward is listening to you, not you him. The album doesn’t give, it takes. Resentment trickles away, so does anger. Even the odd ache of loneliness begins to fade. Which is the problem. Sadness and loneliness and ache are what M. Ward does best. He’s no Pretty Pimpin’ Kurt Vile. He’s got a sneer and a guitar, a piano and a raspy, melodic voice. His is music produced by Christianity, but not faith.

That long road we’ve been stumbling down all these years is not supposed to end with internal peace. M. Ward’s albums are best as reflections, and hence questionings, of happiness. More Rain almost seems as if it takes comfort as a given, as good.

The album has a few real gems. The wistful ones are best: ‘Girl From Conejo Valley’ is a beautiful rerecording of a decades-old blues hit (except the song is actually a new one). And ‘Slow Driving Man’ is a plain and honest – clean – tale of a loner just like us.

But the cover of The Beach Boys’ ‘You’re So Good to Me’ doesn’t have the happy beat of the original; and without that, c’est perdu. Nor does the contribution from Neko Case on ‘Time Won’t Wait Up’ – why use a singer with Neko Case’s moonbeam of a voice, then drown her out anyway? – resonate, its potential unforgivably wasted.

And although ‘Phenomenon’ and ‘Temptation’, where Buck lets loose with mandolin and guitar, are better, they are nonetheless emblematic of an album second half in which weariness wins its battle over introspection. They’re perfect, like M. Ward’s songs always are, just not that good.

Real rain doesn’t pitter patter, it cascades. Thunderstorms are the crush, not the kiss.

Don’t be deceived by its first track, More Rain is a drizzle, not a storm.

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