People Move On
Artist: Bernard Butler
Label: Creation Records(UK)/Sony (US)
Time: 12 tracks/63.38
Bernard Butler has made himself a hard act to follow. Having
earned a formidable reputation for his unique guitar work in Suede, he
split from the band and distanced himself (artistically) from them by collaborating
in a number of unlikely projects. These included working with those
renowned oddballs Sparks and his album-spawning project with David McAlmont.
Along the way he reinforced his reputation as a great guitarist and, sadly,
as someone who couldn't maintain a decent working relationship for long.
Where was he going to go from here? Well, he found his singing
voice and went solo. And, singles aside (but included here), this
is his first offering.
The languid opener, "Woman I Know," sounds more like an extended
version of Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross" than perhaps it should, clocking
in at a positively progressive 7' 51," but I can forgive him for that.
In these zero-attention-span instant-gratification days, it takes a brave
soul to start an album with a slow-burning number. The track sets
the tone for much of the rest of the album, with only "You Just Know" and
the rousing single "Not Alone" upping the tempo in the remaining eleven
songs. This is not an album you put on to get a party going.
It's the one you save for when the guests have gone, and you're left with
the wine stains on the carpet and the urge to stay up an hour longer.
This album is much less immediate than his previous work, but the
songs are strong, richly arranged (aided by an eleven-piece string section)
and stylish, and leave a pleasant afterglow. Lyrically, it's hard
to fathom--not because it's full of dense metaphor, but because it's generally
ambiguous and vague. Or at least I've found it that way on the first
few hearings. "Woman I Know" is contradictory:
There ain't any woman I know
And what is he saying in "When You Grow"?:
that's got me so high,
and though we really tried,
there ain't an emotion I know so low.
When God's love gets in your way, remember child how you were
Well, it confuses me, anyway! I can't find anything in the words
(yet) to cling on to, and this apparent lack of focus bugs me a bit.
In the parts where the lyrics are clear, they tend to be negative.
For example, "In Vain," which is a lyrical suicide note, and the closer
"I'm Tired," which is similarly depressed. Where hope is offered,
Don't keep us apart, don't lead us astray, don't you leave it's
So you light the fire and I'll bring home a smile, and we'll
probably be Okay.
Don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying he should be writing happy,
positive songs. [I'm someone who plays Radiohead and The Smiths to
cheer himself up, but that's a different story.] I just failed to
find any real artistry or at least humor in Butler's words. I get
the feeling he's trying to say something profound somewhere and, frustratingly,
I can't find it. There could be great depth in the stories he's trying
to tell--but, for me at least, that depth wasn't conveyed.
In Suede, Butler was an excellent musical foil for Brett Anderson's
idiosyncratic voice and underbelly-probing lyrics. With David McAlmont,
Butler found a new flamboyant frontperson for his epic music. Here
though, he's essentially alone and his weaknesses show. Nevertheless,
it's a promising solo start from a talented guitarist and arranger who's
found his voice, but hasn't yet found the words to use with it.
By Daren Allder