Sunday, 12 October 2003
Despite causing quite a stir amongst the music press Europe-wide for his eponymously entitled debut in 1998, along with further acclaim for its equally moving sequel a year later, Perry Blake's unconventional talent has remained virtually unnoticed, particularly in his native Ireland and in the UK. After being dropped by Polydor, Blake's distinctive melancholic delivery and moody song writing were picked up by French independent, Naïve. And thankfully so.
On his third record, Blake has been given the opportunity to expand on his unique marriage of painfully exposed lyrics and sumptuous melodies. Where his last album, 'Still Life', took an even darker route than the first, 'California', adopts a more upbeat approach. Here we see Blake incorporating elements of seventies soul in a more luxuriant production, whilst still making use of the film-score style arrangements that were used to such poignant effect before. The melodic sense and rhythm that were more noted on the first album are prevalent here, along with the bleak lyrics, even starker against the new uplifting arrangements.
The album opens sedately with a wistful piano arrangement and haunting guitar, as an introduction to 'This Life'. Straight away, Blake chills the listener with his vocal, singing almost falsetto in the plaintive verses, with a harmony of resonate overdubs during the chorus. His voice and treatments recall the romanticism of his heroes, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake.
It is the following track that really cuts an emotive line. "Don't stop slipping away", Perry mourns whilst the Hammond organ, Motown bass groove and bright brass, push through the lamenting title song. Third up is the ironically buoyant 'Pretty Love Songs', a summary perhaps, of the irony throughout the whole work - "these pretty love songs, they're what keep us alive. And we know they lie."
Other highlights include the delightful reggae dirge of 'Road To Hollywood', drawing on the artifice of the California life-style whilst reflecting on a failed search for happiness. Ignoring the seemingly out-of-place philosophy of 'How Can The Knower Be Known', the overlooked single, 'Ordinary Day' is the next standout, with its sliding film-noire string arrangement and accompanying pizzicato effects.
Venus Of The Canyon is an ideal conclusion, a combination of soulful electonica with a vocal choir and luscious string production. The whole arrangement and Blake's delivery is very reminiscent of the aforementioned Nick Drake. A church choir interchanges almost imperceptibly with the phrases 'Silent night' and 'solitude' towards the end, whilst the guitar collects pace and the film score feel builds, filling the track with intoxicating drama.
If there was any justice Perry Blake would have been acknowledged by the Anglo-Irish contingent already, but under a small continental label it is doubtful 'California' will reach the bigger audience, despite some of its pop-soul qualities. His slightly cynical melancholy doesn't fit between the jolly, paper-thin love songs of his peers. But as a contemporary conveyance of the real-life pain of love's loss, 'California' is the genuine article.