“I’m expecting nothing but something out of this world”, is one of the first lines of Expecting A Message, the opening track on Kevin Godley’s new-but-old solo album Muscle Memory. This is a fair premise, given the intriguing way this album was both put together and has been let out into an unsuspecting world over the course of the year. “New-but-old” refers to the way the album has been released one track/single at a time, every two weeks from 16th July to 3rd December 2020, each with its own video. Of course, this means aficionados will have already heard it all by the time it is released on 17th December. The rest of us, being old codgers who prefer those quaint collections called ‘albums’ over singles (why do they still call them that?), are content to wait for the whole caboodle, and here it is.
Actually, I tell a lie, I’ve had this for months, but have only started listening to it recently, as putting out a review of an album five, six months before it is obtainable in that form seemed a tad pointless. And so… on to the task at hand…
The album started after Kevin received two instrumental tracks at random, with requests to turn them into finished articles, resulting as he says “in two of (his) best ever songs”. Liking the idea of remote collaboration, he threw it open on Pledge Music. Luckily for him and any potential funders, Pledge Music went bust before any cash was committed, and an independent label/production company (see link below) called “The state51 Conspiracy” liked the idea, and so funded it for him. Well, he is a “name” after all!
Eventually, there were 286 submitted tracks(!), which were whittled down to the eleven-track album we have before us, and a highly absorbing work it is, too. Choosing to remove tags so he didn’t know the sources, thus removing any inclination to favour (or not) any famous contributors, the 11 songs that made the record are a varied bunch, but moulded into a whole by Kevin’s ear for a melody and a pithy lyric.
The music is what you might call dark sophisticated pop and Kevin’s lyrics are as intelligent as one would expect, and dive into the political arena, both of the personal and worldly kind. The Bang Bang Theory could easily have been written by Gil Scott-Heron were he around to witness the dystopian depths to which his world has sunk since his departing. Addressing racism, culture wars, gun control, political correctness excesses, and more, Kevin shines the light on all the uncomfortable topics.
Some of the songs work better than others, and a highlight among many is 5 Minutes Alone, “a song about love, obsession, grief, and revenge”, which is short and not particularly sweet, and a fine example of Kevin’s writing. The politics don’t get more personal than on Song of Hate where Kevin tells us “There are people in my working life who I’ve cherished for their talent and dedication. But there’ve also been a few who are so uniquely loathsome and inept that I felt the need to celebrate them here, because no one else ever will…” Heheh, I bet we all wish we could do that with a tenth of Kevin’s panache! “Hey, ho, I hate you so” indeed!
A song to make you sit up and notice among a lot of lyrically hard-hitting or emotionally loaded fare, All Bones Are White is a stark story of racism and misogyny rolled into one:
For some sick Jim Crowe party?
So they could watch you do it dirty
And watch you doing it black
Guess they were thinking you were just another whore
Who’d do anything for money
And they took you behind the station and did just that”
All bones are white (white, white, white)”
This is uncomfortable but necessary listening.
Art-pop, modern soul, non-mawkish balladry, clever electronica, brass sections, all of these are put through Kevin’s consummate and well-respected production skills, and make up a highly satisfying whole. Perhaps the closest comparison, if not musically, but certainly artistically and atmospherically, is of a similar approach to 21st Century David Bowie. Nowhere comes over as more Bowiekinde than the Scott Walker-like ballad One Day where Kevin is musing that “One day there will be no new music” in a dystopian future where AI has made every possible combination of notes and rhythm. “Musicians as we know them will cease to exist”, croons Kev, “because there will be no need for them”. Erm… ok!
Where this kind of bleak anarchic proselytising is ten a penny over a metal or prog metal backing, but rendered irrelevant by the obligatory barbed wire gargler in front of the microphone, here you have the same fearfest crooned into your ear by an old charmer. And that is why it works.
The album ends with a piano ballad, perhaps fittingly. Musically both melancholic and wistful, the lyrics don’t offer a lot of hope. The protagonist “… tried to say a prayer last night, but the words came out all broken. I had one eye on a bird in flight, and the other on the news”… “I see rows and rows of traumatized angels locked out of Heaven, queuing for cigarettes. They wanted nothing more than to decorate paradise, and now they’re all beggin’ for somewhere to stay …and people round here don’t like freaks with wings”.
This isn’t painting our hero into a picture of upbeat jollity is it? Thankfully, reading interviews with the man he doesn’t come across as someone in the last throes of despair, and perhaps it is better to view him as a reporter, telling it like it is. This project, which must have taken a heck of a lot of time to put together, is the culmination of a labour of love, and seems to have crept up on us largely unheralded. It is deserves attention, and more than that it needs to be listened to, as it is quite enthralling, in its own dark fashion.
01. Expecting A Message (4:39)
02. The Ghosts of the Living (4:29)
03. Hit the Street (4:15)
04. The Bang Bang Theory (4:24)
05. 5 Minutes Alone (3:44)
06. Cut to the Cat (4:03)
07. One Day (4:40)
08. All Bones Are White (5:37)
09. Periscope (5:56)
10. Song of Hate (6:23)
11. Bulletholes in the Sky (4:33)
Total Time – 53:44
Other than the main man, I have no idea, there being no PR blurb at all. Most mysterious!
Record Label: The state51 Conspiracy
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 17th December 2020