JUDGE SMITH – The Trick Of The Lock

Masters Of Art 2022

Endless enigmas laid bare on English polymath’s piano songs for everyone to see their simple truths.

The Trick Of The Lock

Over the course of a long and distinguished career that covers much more ground than his original stint with VdGG, Judge Smith has worn a lot of guises and visited a multitude of worlds – the Stygian descend of "Orfeas" was but one of those – yet working as a character actor to observe earthlings’ Weimaresque decadence from a stage placed at the edge of universe seems unique even by this veteran’s standards. As does his approach to writing an opus whose pieces, which could easily lend themselves to theatrical bombast, are stripped down to eerie essentials to ever remain what their composer went on record to describe as piano songs, and to gel into a timeless album – instrumentally limited to Smith’s voice and Robert Pettigrew’s bolstering it with ivories and vocals and at the same time unrestricted in terms of scope. As a result, opting for histrionic seriousness of delivery to offset the satire and sarcasm of his poetry, Judge’s able to generate a gentle shockwave for the listener to wake up and rejoice.

With these arresting fantasies firmly rooted in reality, Smith can be subversive, revealing various scenarios of societal development going wrong – after all, is there a better way to set the bar of expectancy high enough than to open the album by intoning, over the brisk ripple of Pettigrew’s keyboard, “Let’s get rid of that dictator/What happens then, we’ll work out later” before taking the script to the extreme and turning the piece’s title of “Mission Creep” into a triumphant refrain? The same feeling of paranoidal humanity’s perpetual motion towards defiled beliefs and false prophets also fills “The Cosmic Commodore” to detail Judge’s brush with Scientology in the early ’70s through his inspired, serene croon, and Robert’s solemn, hymnal chords – only the vaudevillian number “The Trick Of The Lock” will disrupt balance to contrast eternal mysteries with petty interests – to a great effect which the sneery balladeering of “Skin In The Game” should push to the limit.

Still, the playful “Mercury” offers a different equilibrium – between a certain deity, a certain element, a certain planet and a certain singer – and, thus, creates an alternative cosmogony of modern existence, whereas the equally jovial “Nothing To See Here” finds Smith serve justice and, surprisingly, rock the cut’s bridge and chorus, so while the cinematically slo-mo “Here’s The Thing” distills the drift to pure art panoramas, the energetic “Best Before” sees the esteemed septuagenarian celebrate, and accept, his age with a lot of waltz-like grace. And if there are regrets in the lyrics of “The Little Flower” and its funereal melody, they’re about the state of our affairs rather than getting old, but though Judge may pretend to beat a retreat in the finale of “It’s Another Day” and to bury his face in the wave of strings, the veteran’s defiant stance, political and otherwise, is impossible to deny.

“They’re throwing eggs/But I don’t want to leave the stage,” declares Judge Smith, challenging critics. The thing is, his followers would not want this to happen, either – because the actual trick of the lock hides in its ultimate desire to get picked.


February 1, 2023

Category(s): Reviews

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