By Paul Faithfull
September 26, 2013
Double albums are hard. Even when the physical constraints of vinyl limited an album to around forty minutes, filling two platters usually left even the most distinguished of artists raking in the archives for old tracks to resurrect, or extemporising to almost embarrassing degrees. The onset of CDs made this task even tougher, with a double album able to stretch to almost three hours, they can become a test of endurance. Has anyone ever listened to Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness in one sitting?
Joseph Arthur’s tenth and most recent album The Ballad of Boogie Christ tackles the double album paradigm with aplomb, weighing in at over 1 hour 40 minutes. Based loosely on Arthur’s life, this double album is separated into two “acts” and takes in a wide range of styles throughout its epic duration.
Opening track ‘Currency of Love’ is a fifties themed ballad, recorded with sweeping swings and slapback echo on the vocals to create a fantastically vintage sound. Things get more contemporary from here on in, with layered acoustic guitars dominating the mix alongside organs and horns on ‘The Ballad’. Arthur’s vocals sit somewhere between the tone of Beck and the conversational style of Lou Reed.
A considerable time has clearly been spent on the arrangement of the range of instruments played throughout each track, and to Arthur’s credit, it sounds to these ears that the real McCoy have been used rather than their synthesised equivalent, creating a very authentic sound across the tracks. This expensive approach to producing an album is all but disappearing, which makes it all the more refreshing to hear.
Closing track of the first act, ‘Heroes’ begins with a whisper, as an almost apologetic sounding piano gives way to more assured acoustic guitar. Arthur’s lyrics talk of growing up and the way this changes your opinions of the people you looked up to, along with the acceptance of your own mortality. As the track builds slowly towards its climax, it broods beautifully before finally delivering.
The double album was always seen as a challenge by even the best of acts. Arthur’s effort is more hit than miss, but would definitely benefit from being a little more focused. Whilst he covers a wide range of subjects and touches many musical areas, it almost feels like too much of a good thing. Would your Christmas dinner be any less good if you had four less roast potatoes? Probably not, and you’d probably not need to wear your jogging bottoms afterwards. If this album was reduced by a similar amount, it would probably be a far more pleasurable listening experience.