Riding the waves of invisible, if palpable, sympathy, folk-rock veteran reports on current affairs… of the heart and beyond.
“I felt I’d better tell you so you’d always be aware”: this line from Iain Matthews’ sophomore solo outing could be a leitmotif of “Like A Radio” – the album whose occasional, and deliberate, contradictions reflect the confusing state of today’s reality to result in a gentle warning. It’s not the “some days you eat the bear and some days the bear eats you” balance now; the artist’s stance is one of a more active observer, and the record’s dual finale – there’s a core run of the songs augmented with three bonus cuts – can testify to that. If the listener stops at the “official” end, the raga-kissed reminiscence “Chasing Rainbows” will signal false futility of our efforts; but if they go the extra mile, the regal “Your Cake And Eat It” – albeit Iain ain’t Marie-Antoinette, of course – will turn the tables. Which is why, perhaps, Matthews wouldn’t go it alone and gathered another line-up of his old ensemble to deliver a follow-up to 2010’s "Kind Of New" in the company of players from the Netherlands where he’s been based for the last few years.
There’s a need of company oozing out of “The Age Of Isolation” that’s wrapped in delicious bossa nova to disguise the piece’s desperate drift, but there’s also communal joy in “Bits And Pieces” that’s irresisbibly infectious. “I can delight this town but I love my peace an’ solitude,” confesses Matthews, gradually moving away from the deceptive acceptance of the album’s start towards “Crystals On The Glass” to fill the album’s folksy ripple with anxious rapture. Beginning with the ruminative “The Thought Police” and admitting to having no hidden virtues, the veteran may make us privy to his self-belief until guitar strum and spaced-out synthesizer wobble give way to a polyphony-stricken soft parade, yet “Been Down So Long” is a passivity-lambasting lament for the lost years and, simultaneously, a paean to hope. Relaxed to the point of losing its romantic sting, the piano-laden title track reeks of lounge jazz, and the flamenco-tinctured “Phoenix Rising” is utterly captivating, yet “Darcy Farrow” – one of three revisited classics on offer which enrich their new context – has lost erstwhile playfulness, passed to the frivolous “Jive Pyjamas” to satirize modern lifestyle, in favor of Renaissance solemnity.
It’s this timelessness that “Like A Radio” transmits its thought-provoking missives to. There’s a lot of layers to peel, so the record’s repeated spins are rewarding. A latter-day milestone in Iain Matthews’ career.