Desperate Journalist: Maximum Sorrow!
CD | LP | DL
Released on 2 July 2021
Desperate Journalist emerge from the confines of lockdown with their fourth album Maximum Sorrow! which proves to be another stunning addition to their catalogue. Ian Corbridge admires the imaginative artistic stylings for Louder Than War.
I have to admit that it took me a while to find Desperate Journalist amongst the sprawl of emerging bands that continue to challenge my aural senses in so many different and often glorious ways. In this case, it was one of those evenings when I least expected a new musical chapter to open in my life as I awaited the ever-dependable Wedding Present to hit the stage at Manchester Academy 2 late in 2018. But I guess that made the whole experience that much sweeter.
Desperate Journalist had not even finished the first song in their set when I began to realise that I had just found myself a new and very exciting sound. As the set progressed, I was hit by the pounding powerhouse rhythms, lush guitar breaks, anthemic choruses and a form of melodic and melancholic alternative pop that really spoke to my emotional core. I could hear so many influences coming through those speakers from the brashness of late 70’s Penetration through to the sheer eloquence of The Smiths from the mid-’80s, and oh so much more besides.
By this stage, Desperate Journalist already had two albums under their belts which I was very happy to embrace and, not surprisingly from this particular live experience, a whole lot of gigging under their belts. This was followed in 2019 by their third album, In Search Of The Miraculous, which was full of big guitars, swagger and effortless charm amidst the often brutal narratives delivered through Jo Bevan’s powerful voice. Easily one of my favourite albums of that year.
With real momentum behind the band at this point, this made it all the harder to take as the music industry hit a virtual shutdown amidst the onset of the pandemic. Fortunately, this was not going to stop Desperate Journalist in their tracks and Jo, alongside Rob Hardy on guitars, Simon Drowner on bass and Caroline ‘Caz’ Helbert on drums gathered in deepest Crouch End to write and record their new album, Maximum Sorrow!
In terms of the common themes the band have covered so far, this already seems like an apt title. In fact, it was inspired by the work of one of Jo’s favourite artists Kevin Bewersdorf. The title was taken from one of his projects of the same name which, as Jo explains, was a “concept based on the idea that once you reach a point of full saturation of melancholy, then you can’t absorb anymore, and thus you are free”. So that made me wonder what kind of challenge I was going to face with this new bunch of songs.
We have of course been treated to two singles as album teasers with the most recent one, Personality Girlfriend, already cementing itself as one of my favourite songs of the year so far. Imbued with the spirit of The Smiths in its guitar refrains and even the vocal intonations, it’s quite an epic take on a highly sarcastic and cynical view of a relationship. It’s full of spirit and overladen with great melodies and big chorus lines, and exactly what I have come to expect from a band with such great momentum behind them.
In sharp contrast, opening song Formaldehyde is an altogether much more tranquil affair with a more haunting and ethereal feel about it. It is certainly a more reflective piece, indicative perhaps of a band searching for more varied textures and tones. And then to prove the point, Fault, the first single to be released from the album, bursts into life with a dominant and driving bassline, howling vocals and an angst-ridden narrative focused on teenage hang-ups. This is just great!
Armageddon opens with the tub-thumping and menacing tones of the rhythm section as it rises and then falls into a lull, with a big instrumental break closing it out. The decree to “live while you’re alive” could not be more apt at a time when so many lives have been so badly affected far too soon by the pandemic. Fine In The Family ventures into rock ’n’ roll territory as it conveys a sense of resignation and an acceptance of mediocrity. Utopia starts in mellow fashion before it builds with stylish simplicity amidst swirling synths and vocals which have an almost euphoric quality. Everything You Wanted is built around a hypnotic and metronomic rhythm and soars to great heights through yet more anthemic chorus lines, completely at odds with the message of playing down your hopes and dreams.
Aside from all the vitriol within Poison Pen, it introduces me to the work ‘sesquipedalian’ as one of many less than favourable critiques. And then, as The Victim and What You’re Scared Of both take us through a somewhat cynical view of the challenges faced within relationships, we get to the final question, Was It Worth It? Well, that’s an easy one for me as the whole experience most definitely has been!
Maximum Sorrow! is an album which sees Desperate Journalist pushing yet more boundaries towards a more expansive sound with great success. The melancholic, reflective and often angst-ridden narrative sits behind so many varied rhythms and melodies, with a magnificent vocal sound conveying an intense sense of longing for much better things.
In some senses, founded largely on the strong bass lines and anthemic choruses which for me have become synonymous with this guitar-based pop band, this is familiar territory. However, as a body of work, Maximum Sorrow! proves to be another significant step forward for Desperate Journalist with so many more layers interwoven into the sound and thoughtful lyrical construction. For a band to produce such an outstanding album in such difficult circumstances demonstrates how much they have developed and I for one cannot wait to hear these songs performed live for the first time in the brave new world that now beckons.
Buy the album here.
All words by Ian Corbridge. You can find more of his writing at his author profile.