Chris Helme – The Rookery (Little Num Num)
CD / DL
Available 27 August 2012
The latest solo album from ex-Seahorses frontman Chris Helme is oozing with melancholic electro-acoustic Americana.
It starts with a pastoral instrumental. Delicate, folksy sounds that seem to conjure up England’s rolling green hills, swaying corn fields and shady woods.
By the song’s end the darker melancholic Americana that carries through the rest of the album has started to creep around the edges, slightly discordant and unsettling while being pretty enough to keep your ear.
And then there is Chris’ voice; familiar from his ’90s heyday as singer in the Seahorses alongside the legendary John Squire. The years have seen the arrogant immortality of youth wane though and the vocal is rougher round the edges, wiser. Above anything though Helme captures sadness, soul and sincerity.
There are plenty of melancholic, electro-acoustic numbers, languid rhythms and picked-riffs. A top it all though is that voice; steadying ballast as the melody swoops and sways.
Here too is swampy stomping. Bigger sounds reverberate, bouncing off each other as the tempo increases. The Spindle and Cauldron, the beating heart of this album, is a spinning inevitability. At once a longed for thrill in the pit of the stomach and a rising nausea of fear at what comes when the spinning stops.ÃÂ What happens, of course, is more lilting melancholic Americana. Swelling backing vocals, squeals sliding down strings, the reverb of acoustic catching.
There is a pinch of psyche and a modicum of trippy rock added to the mix here and there; the merest ghosts of Zeppelin, The Faces, Elbow and Chris’ own past fading in and out through the songs.ÃÂ There is even a hint of early Gomez in the humming vibration underlying the vocal of Pleased. The beat bumping sexily up against the swing of the piano line.
But after every up there is a down and soon enough it is back to the grated guitar, the heartbreaking refrain of “I love my kids, and I love my wife” repeated over and over – an anxious line of convincing the self rather than an uncontainable joy that just has to be shared. A perfect example of the vulnerability so honestly on display throughout The Rookery.
If your main association with Chris Helme is the dying days of Britpop then it’s time to have another listen. In the intervening years Helme has become quite the songwriter and The Rookery is a wonderful mix of light and dark, contradicting moods and well-crafted balladeering.
This album has a great, resonating energy that pulls from the huge pool of blues, folk, indie, psychedelia and Americana to make something altogether beautiful; gentle,ÃÂ persuasive, melodic power.