[17 September 2009]
Dear Soundtrack Selector for Grey’s Anatomy,
Here’s a song you might want to try on for size: Fink’s “Sort of Revolution”. Perfect for one of them montages that segue between each character as they console themselves of their bruised lives, the song is laconic and brooding, intense in its intent and bares a smidgen of tension-building piano and gentle acoustics. And it talks about departing a dark past for a brighter future.
You might think it slightly out of whack for Ninja Tune, a seasoned peddler of haute electronica and trip hop, to be home to such material where instrumentals are peeled away to let the singer/songwriter preen his feathers. But Fin Greenall, stage name Fink, is not entirely alien to the Ninja family, for the Bristolian began his recording career in the mid-nineties as a techno boffin. His metamorphosis into a fully-fledged trip hop artist then calcified when Ninja sought him out on the eve of Y2K. To the understanding bafflement of his fans, Greenall transitioned again into a bona fide singer-songwriter with a dusted-off guitar and little in the way of studio effects a half decade after he brought out the Coldcut-approved Fresh Produce (2000). 2006’s Biscuits for Breakfast showed us that Fink is actually John Mayer with a hardened scruffiness in place of baby-faced ostentation, a diluted Nick Cave who you’d want to be friends with, even. It showed us his gift for weaving reams of folk/blues/jazz/soul into soundscapes that were by turns as bleak as urbanity and as majestic as the Rocky Mountains. In other words, it would have tickled John Martyn in his grave. He even mastered the bottleneck slide. And then there were his lyrical tales that betrayed a worldly eye on everyman concerns.
The follow-up album Distance and Time (2007) matured lyrically and gained muscle on the finger picking. It also crystallised in the minds of his listeners a conviction that Fink is an island in a world of Paolo Nutinis, Jack Penates, and Jason Mrazs, and refuses to be submerged by its warming billboard-infested waters.
His third LP, a self-produced effort, continues the trek through acoustic funk. Once again we’re offered heart-on-sleeve intimacy and melodies that contain pressure-cooked tension that never blows its top. So if you’re conditioned to expect a build up to grandiloquent bursts of chorus, you’ll be disappointed by just about every song on Sort of Revolution. In fact it’s even more pared back and softly spoken Jeff Buckley-style than his previous folk outings, and therefore serves as an audacious riposte to the current vogue in pop excess. So much so that for its closer, Fink strips “Walking In the Sun” by Jeff Barry (of the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” fame) to its bone, temporarily relieving the austerity with some choral backing.
The dying embers of album opener “Sort of Revolution” is relit by a vanishing spark with “Move On Me”, on which John Legend contributes a delicate piano accompaniment over Fink’s travelling-by-railway electro guitar shuffle. All the while Fink’s buttery baritone contorts like burning paper as he forlornly invites his love into his life. On “Nothing Is Ever Finished”, Fink laments a cheating lover with words like: “Daisy, destiny is pulling the trigger / Temptation happens to everyone / Temptation, wipe that smile off your face” while a groaning bluesy guitar trundles no end. “See It All” then ups the tempo and lightens the skies with a funky tribal drum track and endearing autobiographical detail about Bright Lights Big New York City. It finds Fink’s multitracked vocals at their most caressing and arresting.
The artist’s celebrated transparency and lack of machismo is encapsulated in “Q&A” and “If I Had a Million”. Over a hummed hip hoppity break and a steady handclap beat, Fink’s oblique vocal meditation furnishes the former with a story about running away from home. The latter, a reflection of what striking it lucky will do for Fink and his (lucky) girl, will have ladies misty-eyed at his sincerity and guys hating this singer for being so darn honest and committing. “It’s a very fine line between you and me / Between you and I / And I crossed it many times / Steal your mind babe / So if I had a million / If I had a million / Yay/ You would have a million too”. It’s less cheesy than it reads.
Of course the way the world is, if it were a girl affecting the heartfelt sensitivity of Fink with bare-bones instrumentation without the hardened drug-addled sass of an Amy Winehouse or the thespian histrionics of Florence and the Machine, she would be shouted out of the pub. That’s not necessarily an indictment of Sort of Revolution and its predecessors but it does go to show that Fink’s ilk is so rare nowadays that we ought to embrace him with the kind of relish we would a well in a desert.
So how about it, Soundtrack Selector?