Review: Jack Roberts – The Romance, The Row, and The Wreck
Published on June 27th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Rocksucker enjoyed this entertaining interview with Liverpool songwriter Jack Roberts before he and his band’s awe-inspiring, stopped-’em-in-their-tracks performance at central London venue The Social in February, and they mesmerised all over again at their album launch party show at Islington’s The Old Queens Head last week (with support from the excellent and no little eccentric Vio Mire, it must be said.)
Now, finally, onto the album itself. Does it live up to the thrillingly guttural live performances? Well, despite a lighter, less Waits-ian vocal delivery, the answer is a resounding yes. Roberts’s grizzled, earthy and soulful tones are complemented to quite wonderful effect by Dan Murphy’s tinkling ivories and Hayden John’s violin weaving sweetly around it. All of this is evidenced straight from the off on powerfully direct, Celtic folk-esque opener “Sleepwalking”, before the loungey jazz piano, finger-clicks, satisfying mic-stand bass plinks (yes, you read that correctly) and whispered titular refrain of “Da-Dee-Da-Dum” creates a blissed-out platform for Roberts’s compellingly delivered lyrics such “Running away from home / With no sense of danger / Lots of temptations / Talking to strangers / And your head and your heart just won’t agree”. Oh, and dig that lovely, tender intonation of the words “another problem”. So far so great, then.
After the soft, shimmering beauty of “Fall for You” and simple-yet-darned-effective, Lennon-esque piano of “Driving Away” (the latter of which declares “if looks could kill, we could do some damage”), “February the Twenty-Fifth” dwells in a beautiful spot of shade with sultry saxophone interjections, barely-even-there church organ and memorable lines like “You look in the mirror / There’s no-one looking back”, while “The Mermaids” whittles an ominous-bordering-on-malevolent wilderness out of syncopated bass twiddles, a shuffling ‘n’ clacking beat and some kind of weird, intermittent scratching – it really is tremendous stuff, and features one of this LP’s few concessions to vocal harmonies.
“If” is downcast but in more of a soulful way, arriving like the calm after the storm of “Mermaids” with a nifty harmonica/violin showdown, paving the way for the curiously triumphant “You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead” to steal the show with Roberts’s wonderfully restrained speak-singing of “The Devil was in Bernie’s with a smile like the sphinx / He had some woman with him who was buying all his drinks / He handed me a bottle and then he called out ‘time’ / I said, ‘Keep your one-way ticket and your one-track mind’, the whole thing registering like a gusto-inducing cross between “Sympathy for the Devil” and Kevin Ayers’ “Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes”.
We then have the paranoid, discordant “The Lights Are Going Out” before the soft shuffle of “Skin Deep” makes further use of Murphy’s splendid “Sympathy for the Devil”/”Loaded”-by-Primal-Scream piano under such contrarian ruminations as “Looking for a breakdown / Laughing all the way”, and finally the sinister single “Heart Attack” brings the curtain down with a grizzly baritone evoking fear over strange/ominous/strangely ominous instrumentation and another simple-yet-effective repeated utterance of the title as a chorus. “They see in the dark / They know where you are / There’s no escape” – you’d be afraid, but you’ll be too busy enjoying the trumpet and pirate-y “Yo ho ho!”-ing.
It’s taken just shy of twenty years for Jack Roberts to issue a follow-up to his Sony-issued debut Longer on a Message, but Rocksucker is delighted to announce that it’s been worth the wait. The Romance, The Row, and The Wreck is a beautifully measured, delightfully idiosyncratic and soothingly soulful record, and we can only hope that the world takes notice.
Rocksucker says: Four and a Half Quails out of Five!