Review of Blood Songs

Courtesy of Sangraal Records

I've spent much of the month of October with Blood Songs glued to my CD player. Well I haven't been listening nonstop, there were baseball games to watch too! But here's my thoughts on what I've heard.

I may be biased since I've heard these songs develop in the many gigs I've seen the past two years, but I think these are the coolest songs Nick's written yet, almost all of them about his family and his deep emotions about them. I believe I read a review that said Nick won't need to write his autobiography now, because it's all in his songs, and I'd tend to agree with that. But they're not just about him, they're about everyone's families (if that makes sense) - it's universal as well as very personal. I still tear up whenever I hear Imaginary Friend, because of memories of my own family. And the whole "feel" of the songs means as much to me as the lyrics. The artwork is great too - lots of arty red and white reworkings of Nick's family photos, to illustrate the subjects of each song.

I wouldn't say it's perfect - for example, much as I think Love Is Music is great, I'm not sure I would have made it a standalone song, though it does rock wildly. But I can't fault it for that. In my opinion it's the best studio album he's ever done. And that includes the EPs. It's not a sparse album, however it's not just one man and an acoustic in a studio. Besides Nick himself, there's some other great musicians involved and they all work really well together, which makes the rumours of an upcoming band tour even more tantalizing. Getting back to the album, it's not overbearing, nor is it glossy and overproduced (and I love Smithereens but I still think it is slightly guilty of this). It's cohesive, warm, emotional and infuriatingly catchy, all at the same time. This is the album which most lives up to the promise of the live Harper experience.

It also sounds great with bathroom tile acoustics while having a bubble bath. I've tested it, trust me on this.

Track by track brief thoughts:

Foreplay: Leaving aside the obvious minute-and-a-half joke (!), there's a lot here for such a brief moment in time. Beautiful guitar playing and (need it be said) very sexy lyrics...

LoveJunky: If there's a "pop song" on this album, here it is. Could definitely be a single, if Nick's up for that sort of thing. Great Harper harmonies too. He insists this is a "band" song - so bring the band on, already! ;)

Lily's Song: The first of the songs for Nick's daughter, one of my live faves since he wrote it in Scotland during spring 2002. Very much like the live version, and quite spare except for the excellent multitracked vocals.

Love Is Music: I still like it - it rocks quite hard - but I think it works better in the spontaneous live version. I wonder if there was more to this... it probably could have gone on for hours! Would work really well as some trippy remix, I'll bet.

Imaginary Friend: When I heard this start with just some percussion and effects and no acoustic guitar, I was scared. But oh how this WORKS! It makes the entry of the acoustic melody even more poignant. Heart-wrenchingly beautiful song about his mother and daughter - maybe the most heartfelt Nick's ever written (and that's saying something).

Stronger: Heard it at one gig - another amazing love song, all about itself (sound familiar?) - and now Nick never plays it any more! Could have something to do with hitting all the high parts live, but I do hope he tries more often. So thanks for putting it on the album so I can swoon over it whenever I want. :) Make sure to listen to the lyrics - they're especially good.

Vampire Song: You may remember it by another title, but this live classic lives up to all its earlier promise. A bit more - dare I say it? - *goth-y* with the band and electric guitar, and the strings (played by one of the Levellers, fact fans!) are a good touch too. I maybe preferred it acoustic, but that's just me, it certainly hasn't suffered for the change.

The Wanderer And His Shadow: Another live fave given the band/electric treatment, and again I slightly prefer the acoustic version... except, damn, does that electric ROCK. Okay, I probably like this just as much!

The Kissing Gate: New, never played live (as far as I know), and totally unlike anything before it on the album. This is one man, his guitar and his voice (and a little bit of echo thrown in here and there!), and it knocked me off my feet. Something of a fingerpicking showpiece, but a gorgeous song however you look at it. The high notes give me goosebumps! Oh and maybe it sounds just a little bit like Roy? (ssssssh I never said that haha)

Boy Meets Planet: A jazzy little number - maybe a bossa nova, one fan pointed out - reminiscent of (and I'm sticking my neck out here) early post-police jazzy Sting. That is NOT a bad thing, so stop moaning. ;) Slightly more humourous (though ironic) lyrics, but it's still a love story - love gone bad between humans and Mother Nature, perhaps?

My Little Masterpiece: Another song for Lily, this time a more rambling number about life going full circle. There's a lot I like about this song (most especially the lyrics), even though it's not one of my favourites on the album. Maybe meanders a bit too much, but with some lovely instrumental breaks.

Blood Song: Where has this song been hiding?? The perfect climax (see previous "foreplay" joke ;) to the album, right down to the echoing riff into the distance at the end. This is a big electric rocker of a number, with great interplay between samples and the guitar lines, which in my opinion wouldn't be out of place on the radio... well, if it played cool music anymore, that is!

Verdict: my fave album of the year and the best yet of Nick's albums - as close to perfect as we're gonna get at 4.95 stars out of 5 (well we do need to leave room for improvement...)

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Updated 13 March 2004
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