Boo Hewerdine – Swimming in Mercury

Album Review | Reveal | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

This is a poppier Boo Hewerdine, who effortlessly manages to reference all the way across the broad music palette of late 60s or early 70s gatefold plush albums. The opening electronic chords of “Satellite Town” sounds disturbingly like the opening of Hewerdine the musical, with Boo’s dry vocals setting up a narrative while a high production dance number swirls across a West End Stage around him. Again and again the reflective biographical nature of the lyrics and the musical nods make this feel like an inventive and ironic stage show. The electro soundscape of “Satellite Town” with occasional atmospheric jazz breaks manages to sound new and classic at the same time. Rather like a musical Pleasantville, the music sounds knowing and modern while being retro and cool. Listen to the jazz guitar chords and Bacharach brass stabs on “Voice Behind The Curtain”. “A Letter To My Younger Self” carries the mood of the autobiographical musical forward, intelligent sharp pop/rock with Steely Dan Saxophone and an infectious chorus. “My First Band” is built around beautiful Beach Boys vocal lines, with sharp perfect lyrics impeccably delivered in that distinctive Hewerdine wry vocal. The guitar based troubadour has morphed or has been shed, to be replaced by a carefully crafted intelligent pop artist. The lyrics are still as sharp as ever, but the soundscape is Ben Folds meets a lush Beach Boys or ELO wash. “American TV” maintains the song cycle feel with Boo reflecting on the appeal of US technicolour over a valve warm 60s feel production. “Sleep” another beautifully crafted song, built around a crunching electric guitar part and a 67 County Joe and The Fish organ sound, is almost mid 60’s Beatlesque in the way the vocals run around each other. “Gemini” explores, through clever word play, a close relationship with retro references to the American Space Program and an ear worm of a discordant electric guitar. “The Boy Who Never Cried Wolf” sets sequenced electronic keyboards against Hewerdine’s vocals in a way that almost recalls the Pet Shop Boys, with another infectious tune and a superb arrangement. “The Year That I Was Born” shifts back and forwards through time, the bassline is 70s Pink Floyd, the lyrics are peppered with early 60s references, as they would be, managing to be nostalgic and thoughtful. Think of a tasteful and poignant spin on the sentiment of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”. The song oozes sadness and nostalgia that kind of warm melancholia of a man staring into his pint sitting on the bar. “Drinking Alone”, a song about drinking, by contrast manages to be jaunty, like a Chas and Dave or Music hall number with the keyboard refrain that sounds like an insistent alarm clock cutting through the morning after fog just adding to the songs wry humour. “An Atheist In A Foxhole” is a piano ballad, pure jazz with a wash of saxophone, poignant lyrics and an arresting delivery that catches your heart strings. “Swimming In Mercury” is an another aching song that deals deftly with pain, loss and the troubles of day to day living. A stripped back ballad with a retro percussion loop, beautiful guitar and a lyric that ends the album perfectly. After writing Radio Ballads for the BBC and the recent Child Migration series, producing other artists, recording and touring as State of the Union with American guitarist Brook Williams, recording and touring with Eddi Reader, Lau’s Kris Drever and Duke Special, producing the excellent My Name In Brackets retrospective and releasing an album of lost recordings. This feels like a new direction, but not in a self-conscious Spinal Tap way, rather in a growing and constantly evolving kind of way. This is a real game changer of an album, Boo Hewerdine’s albums consistently gather 5 stars and critical acclaim, but Swimming in Mercury, takes that then makes you sit and smile for the sheer unexpectedness of it managing to be beautiful and strange, familiar and fresh.