A debut album quite unlike any other
Whether you love “Dead Capital” will probably hinge on whether you consider this to be one of the greatest pieces of poetry ever committed to tape. “Now you’re hooked on cheap pornography/Desensitised to sex/You’ve got a useless liberal arts degree and twenty grand of debt/ But you’re open letter is going viral/You got 30,000 likes/You say you’re a fucking environmentalist/Just because you ride a bike.”
Or whether you get the dark humour in this passage: “Like your music cumbersome? Want a nice square picture of my face on the wall? Need a large physical object in order to attribute value to Art? Look no further – Buy Dead Capital on deluxe 180gm Vinyl LP”.
The latter is perhaps easier to deal with. It is difficult to know when Louis Brennan is being serious or not (the paragraph above is a sales pitch on his Bandcamp page) but it is absolutely certain that whatever he does is always compelling. As the first paragraph – a verse in the song “Silence” – proves – “Dead Capital” is never easy listening, and crikey you’ll be asking yourself hard questions in places – but goodness me, it is astonishing.
Names like Conor Oberst, Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen are bandied about when dealing with Brennan (all fair enough, and the Cash comparison comes from the delivery which sounds particularly laconic in places), but this Irishman – honed in London, as he explains at length – brings to mind the great writers of his homeland, and in places is reminiscent of the stream of consciousness of James Joyce. These might be the wordiest songs of the year so far, but they are also some of the most acerbic, darkly funny and astonishingly raw too.
To get down to brass tacks, there aren’t many debut albums that begin with the tale of a married man having a gay affair, and there are even less that offer this in the second verse: “I lie in the bathtub with a razor to my wrists and a list of explanations she’s gonna give to my kids.” But like I said, this ain’t an ordinary record, and that is how “Airport Hotel” ushers itself in.
It is the small details that make this quite so wonderful. The very first line of “Bit Part Actor” is typical. “It was a Tuesday morning, the 22nd of July”. Immediately its believable, “The Culture Of Resistance” which has the bleakness of a malignant tumour at its heart, and seems to be a take on the politics of last summer, as the character sings to “Jeremy” but can’t help get swept along “I want to be there too, when the orchestra plays The Internationale” he finally admits. It is worth saying that such are Brennan’s gifts that he wraps this around a catchy hook.
Indeed, for the ostensible bleakness here, it is not a record without its singalong moments, see “London” as proof. If you have a job you hate, you have two options. Start a music website (we might have done this) or write this song for everyone on “the 277 that’s falling apart”. Either way, this is your anthem.
There is a sense of wanting more permeating this. “Get On Top” deals with a crumbling relationship thus: “you can close your eyes, and think about any other lover you like”, “Selfish Lover” finds him “drunkenly entering you on the hotel floor” but none of it brings happiness. This is a record for those who do things in the ultimate knowledge that there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
It is also an album that, although Brennan is the unquestionable star, possesses a perfect musical backdrop, mostly acoustic, when it adds a band it does so brilliantly. “The Narrative Of Self Defeat” for example brings an almost country air to things with its accordion work. “I Walked Away From A Glittering Career” is the tale of a man who wants to leave it all behind: “Even white men get the blues, you see. It’s very windy at the top of that tree” and its the thought you never quite know what he’s going to say, that keeps everyone guessing.
The final song “Home Sweet Home” adds a piano and good old Irish folk into the mix, but sounds anything but happy with his homeland: “If I wanted to feel any worse about myself, then I’d have to try pretty damn hard.” But then, it was never going to be happy ever after was it? Neither should it be.
Usually at times like this, people like me say things like “this is the best debut album since Appetite For Destruction/Love/Hate’s Blackout In The Red Room/Earth Vs The Wildhearts” (delete as appropriate – I always use those three) but such glibness doesn’t do this justice. What we can say for certain is this. “Dead Capital” is astonishing on just about every level.