Bill Ryder-Jones: A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart

A defiantly old-fashioned, exceptionally good quality collection of lush, broken-hearted pop songs from the Coral's former guitarist.

Bill Ryder-Jones

A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart

Label: Domino
US Release Date: 2013-04-23
UK Release Date: 2013-04-08

Since leaving the Coral in 2008, Bill Ryder-Jones seems to have made a speciality out of ignoring expectations, if not actively rebelling against them.

The Coral, after all, were and are a perfectly adequate band of a specifically English type: a fun, vaguely-psychedelic guitar-rock band, drawing most of their inspiration from a grab-bag of ‘60s-era bands – there are prominent echoes of Love, the Doors, the Beach Boys, the Animals, Small Faces, and Syd-Barrett-era Pink Floyd all over their music. It’s a style that is perennially popular in the UK, even if (or because) in its modern form it can come across as more about pumping up the good times than saying anything of too much substance; bands as diverse as Gomez, Ocean Colour Scene, the Charlatans, Super Furry Animals, the Thrills, Dodgy and thousands of lesser lights have made healthy careers of various levels of critical and commercial success from mining this sort of territory.

So when Ryder-Jones left after more than a decade as the Coral’s guitarist, what would you expect from him? You probably wouldn’t expect him to immediately dive into scoring soundtracks for independent films, that’s for sure. And even knowing that, you wouldn’t really expect his full debut album to be an orchestral ‘imagined score’ to Italo Calvino’s tricksy, wry 1979 novel If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller. And for the follow-up to that album? Certainly not the gorgeous, melancholy collection of intimate, sophisticated pop songs that he has delivered here.

In its own way, A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart has some similarities to Ryder-Jones’ previous work with the Coral, if only in that it is an almost defiantly old-fashioned collection of songs. But this album draws from a very different tradition to any of Ryder-Jones’ work with his previous band: that of the damaged, folk-tinged singer-songwriter, with Nick Drake, Ron Sexsmith and Elliott Smith the most obvious reference points.

Like those artists, Ryder-Jones writes a great deal about troubled affairs of the heart, as if that weren’t already apparent from the album’s title. Indeed, this is an album drenched in sorrow and regret: "I never meant for anything to get this far / I never meant to hurt you, that's just how things are,” he sings on one track. “Hanging onto things will only hurt your heart / Hanging onto me will only hurt your heart,” he sings elsewhere. There are vague hints at infidelity and various unfathomably complex relationships involving girlfriends, sisters and mothers, and other unexplained but clearly specific personal details.

Ryder-Jones has said that the songs on A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart are all based on true stories, and it’s entirely believable. Overall, there is a general sense of powerful emotions barely kept in check, that despite a period of distance and detachment the songs have been dredged from a deep personal chasm that it would be wise not to peer into too closely.

“Wild Swans” is perhaps the album’s high point, if that’s the right term for a track that manages to mine variations on the refrain “Don’t tell me that it’s over / It’s not over ‘til I say it’s over” for every ounce of pathos. The upbeat Belle and Sebastian-esque swing of “Christina That’s the Saddest Thing”, which follows, is a welcome relief by comparison, as is the romantic fantasy of “There’s a World Between Us”, for all that it’s drenched in melancholy. There are interesting moments around the margins too – the title track is a particularly odd two-humped beast, with the first part being just two lines of lyrics over a moody, atmospheric backing, before the second part closes the album in a lush burst of song with the trapped lines “I can’t look at the stars / I can’t be trusted not to look at the stars.”

All this sadness and introspection might be overwhelming, were it not for the quality of the song-writing, the beauty of the music and above all the restraint with which the album has been pulled together. For one, Ryder-Jones has a fine voice, all the more so given his limited vocal duties in the Coral. His singing is soft, mannered and sad, somehow like a less jumpy, affected Stuart Murdoch (of Belle and Sebastian), or a less sleepy version of Neil Halstead (of Slowdive and Mojave 3). It’s a perfect fit for the material.

Moreover, the performances all across the album fairly ooze quality and what might be called good taste, from the hushed, tasteful drumming to the gentle piano and acoustic guitar that dominate the album. That might sound like it could be dull, but the songs are given life by a collection of gorgeous melodies and witty, oblique lyrics. The arrangements on each track are subtle, yet expansive, with each melody given time to express itself. It’s all quietly beautiful stuff.

To some ears, it might seem that there’s nothing especially innovative with all that’s on display here. Yet the sheer attention to detail and craftsmanship on A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart somehow gives a sense – in keeping with the romantic paradoxes that populate the album’s lyrics – that these days this kind of unfashionably direct, heartfelt tunesmithery might just be its own kind of innovation.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.