Martin Rossiter: The Defenestration of St Martin – album review

Martin Rossiter – The Defenestration of St Martin (Drop Anchor Music)
DL / CD

Released 3 December 2012 

Debut solo album from ex-Gene frontman Martin Rossiter is released next week and it’s a strikingly powerful record 

Guilt by association is a common occurrence in the world of pop music; by being in the wrong place at the wrong time an innocent benevolent bystander can be swiftly handcuffed and sent down without trial all too often. Alas, sitting in the custodial bargain bin of history marked ‘Britpop’ lies Gene, rubbing shoulders with numerous copies of ‘Be Here Now’ and cassettes of various other bands with one word names from the mid-nineties.

A one word name though is largely all Gene had in common with the rest of the Britpop movement. Gene were nothing but sensitive, articulate and aware at a time when sensitivity, articulacy and awareness were not virtues valued by the music industry (well were they ever?). For the record, this is from a fan of large chunks of what falls under the Britpop bracket, but it is this bracketing that is the very problem.

Thus as Britpop fell, and as the mainstream interest in guitar music simultaneously collapsed, Gene fell alongside onto the same sword. Fast forward via the millennium to November 2012 and long after Gene’s split frontman Martin Rossiter delivers his first solo album, indeed his first musical offering, in more than a decade.

As the great Stewart Lee so rightly noted in The Times earlier this week, we may have lost a 20th century indie band but we have gained a 21st century solo artist. The repeated assumption that commercial peak equals creative peak and anything past this point is worthless is firmly trounced by Rossiter here: ‘The Defenestration of Saint Martin’ is one of the year’s standout releases.

The musical arrangement throughout the album is strikingly sober and sparse – from the opening notes through to just before the album’s close Rossiter is backed almost solely by a piano. To sustain interest and energy over forty two minutes of such musical austerity is absolute testament to not only the immense craft of Rossiter’s songwriting but the beauty of his voice.

Comparisons to Morrissey have been launched constantly and consistently through Rossiter’s career. And though many of these comparisons are the kind of lazy label thrust upon anyone from England who shuns the idea of adopting a US accent as soon as the microphone is plugged in there are notable idiosyncratic similarities between Rossiter and Morrissey vocally. Like Morrissey, Rossiter sings with a delicately pronounced croon that can deliver the most heartbreaking of lyric with just the right dosage of humour and self-deprecation and the most humorous and self-deprecating lyric with just the right dosage of heartbreak.

Whilst the black humour of Gene is lessened on the bulk of the record, ‘The Defenestration of St Martin’ is in no way po-faced nor self-pitying; be under no doubt that Rossiter can deliver sharper lines now than even at much of Gene’s best work, remarking “If my heart skips a beat I’ll seek medical help” on one of the album’s most confessional moments ‘My Heart’s Designed for Pumping Blood’. And this is a confessional album. As the title would suggest, the album is largely the kind of analysis of the self that one can only do once or twice in a lifetime. This is the album of not just a matured songwriter, but a matured man – traditional lyrical themes of sorrow, unrequited love and depression are here full of poignancy and personality from the fresh and often ignored perspective of a man in his forties. Too often pop music would have you believe that heartache is merely the reserve of thin white males in their twenties.

The album begins with an ambitious ten minute polemic aimed at Rossiter’s absent father – and is in turns difficult, moving, intimate and powerful. As Rossiter repeatedly intones ‘all I ever got from you was my name’ to this absent father, it’s striking how much more developed his songwriting is from the yesteryear of Gene.

Indeed, the nearest thing to Gene on the record is ‘Drop Anchor’, the catchy obvious choice for a single. Though the anthemia of Gene hits such as ‘London, Can You Wait?’ and ‘Olympian’ is largely shelved for minimalist torch songs, for wry pop moments with great choruses look no further than standout track ‘I Must Be Jesus’ – “And yes, I do mean literally” quips Rossiter just before the fantastically silly all-male choir launches into the chorus of self-proclaimed divinity.

‘The Defenestration of St Martin’ is a strikingly powerful analysis of the self that the Mercury Prize should be handed to if it wasn’t all a corporate industry fix. Sounding less like a jaded-former-indie-star and more akin to Nick Cave’s ‘The Boatman’s Call’ Martin Rossiter’s debut LP is an astoundingly fine body of work.

All words by Fergal Kinney. You can read more from Fergal on LTW here.

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2 comments on “Martin Rossiter: The Defenestration of St Martin – album review”

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  1. This album is truly a benchmark piece of art. You would be hard pressed to find something comparable released in the last few years. And Morrissey? I worship at the altar of the Mozfather but he could learn a lesson from St. Martin. Morrissey, be brave enough to step away from the noise, the overproduction and the ceremony just long enough to show the world why you are revered. Martin has done a fine job of doing just that very thing.

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