[18 April 2006]
With both the artist’s name and the album’s title belonging to a single man, you might not expect this disc to be the result of a collaborative effort. In truth, however, the creation of Richard Butler (the album) was the joint effort of two men: Richard Butler and Jon Carin. Now, I’m not saying that the duo should get joint billing. I possess the rudimentary knowledge of the machinations of marketing required to understand why this is billed as a one-man show. The name on the front cover simply must go to the lead singer of pioneering post-punkers The Psychedelic Furs and rather enjoyable alt-rockers Love Spit Love. Richard Butler comes with a great pedigree. Jon Carin, on the other hand, was the keyboardist and singer for a mid-‘80s synth-pop band called Industry, who had a minor hit with “State of the Nation” before seeping into the topsoil of obscurity. Carin hardly disappeared, though. He’s since performed and recorded with many great artists, including The Who, Pink Floyd, Corey Hart (wait, what?), The Chieftains, Gipsy Kings, and—aha!—both of Richard Butler’s former bands. Certainly, this album marks his greatest achievement yet, as he recorded every instrument and engineered, mixed, and produced the entire record.
Knowing that these guys have a 20-year history together underscores the quite apparent sonic sympathy shared by Butler and Carin. The songs on Richard Butler were crafted during writing sessions at Carin’s home studio, and Butler credits the depth of his partner’s musical ideas as inspiring the honesty behind his lyrics. For a dude who used to ooze with cool, it’s refreshing to hear lines like: “I should bite my lip / Let my big mouth sleep / ‘Cause the whole damn world don’t turn on me”. It’s a safe bet that, earlier in his career, Butler wished to be at the axis of everything, in the spotlight of the world’s attention. But perspective teaches us that “the same sun shines on everyone”. A great deal of the emotional resonance of these lyrics comes from Carin’s music. Typical of the album as a whole, spacey synths float and burble over a programmed beat, while a guitar picks out a bittersweet melody.
The reflective nature of Richard Butler is probably most directly attributable to the recent deaths of both men’s fathers. The first page of text in the CD’s liner notes is reserved for an austere dedication to the two men, both of them doctors (another trait the two artists share). And, while the album is undeniably tinged with the sadness of loss, it is also buoyed up by the hopefulness that comes with letting go. Only occasionally brooding, the music here mostly soars, albeit in an understated way. A slow grower, Richard Butler is easy to ignore on first lesson. On the second time around, however, you’ll find that several of the songs crept into your brain while you weren’t paying attention. “Broken Aeroplanes” will get you first. It’s the closest thing to a rocker offered on the album, with its gritty little guitar stabs and loping bass line. Mostly, this disc conjures up the mellower moments from Radiohead’s The Bends and the astral interludes of Pink Floyd’s ‘70s classics. This is probably the album that Coldplay will be making a few years down the line, when they finally give up on trying to shake arenas U2-style and work more toward their atmospheric strengths.
But that’s another topic for another day. We’re here to praise Richard Butler, not to bury Coldplay. This is a lovely album and a very welcome return from Butler. His vocals still have the coolest texture around, a synaesthetic concoction of fine grain sand and warm brandy pouring into your ears. And, regardless of his newfound openness, Butler’s lyrics remain evocative. The great discovery here, though, is Jon Carin. For over two decades now, he’s been buttering our bread (musically speaking, that is), and we didn’t even know it. Sure, you could make the obvious choice and visit Richard Butler’s fancy-schmancy website. Instead, why don’t you drop on by www.joncarin.com and leave a hearty congratulations on his message board. Currently, there are a total of, um, seven posts. With so fine an accomplishment as creating the lush musical soundscapes found on Richard Butler, Jon Carin should be every bedroom producer’s new hero. And this very good album should be added to every listener’s collection.