Human beings are drawn to darkness. We slow down to gaze at the aftermath of car accidents. We gobble up news of disgraced celebrities with indecent haste. Given a choice between the story of the local boy triumphing over adversity or the tale of a man who fell from grace and turned into a panhandling junkie, living in a stolen car, we’re always going to pick option two.
Welcome to the real world. It’s not pretty is it?
John Murry has lived a life. His press release reads like an episode of “Breaking Bad” scripted by Charles Bukowski. He was adopted into the Faulkner family, became an addict with mental health issues at a young age and had a near fatal heroin overdose on a San Francisco street – all those factors contribute to the mood of “A Short History of Decay”. “Heaven is a Place on Earth” sang Belinda Carlisle. John Murry would beg to differ.
It’s been five years since his last album. “The Graceless Age” was lauded as a work of genius by the press and his live performances to promote it were as thrilling as they were raw. Sadly, following the death of his mentor Tim Mooney (a musician, producer and engineer who worked with American Music Club, and Sun Kil Moon among others) in 2012, the darkness returned, only being broken when he met Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies who guided Murry through the recording of “A Short History of Decay”. The results are a sort of beautiful despair.
He doesn’t yell to make a point. His voice is a dark, Leonard Cohen croon – at times he resembles Gordon Lightfoot on Tramadol. Tempo’s are leisurely and the instrumentation is minimal – funereal percussion and tremelo-ed and over-fuzzed guitars are the order of the day. Producer Timmins has made it all hang together beautifully and creates an aural fog that you’re happy to be lost in. On the occasions where Murry does “rock out” he does it convincingly – “Under a Darker Moon” gallops along nicely and is the closest thing to a single on the album. Elsewhere…it’s bleak stuff. “One Day (You’ll Die)” starts with the line “I remain nothing more than a misquote in history’s back pages” and goes downhill from there. (It does however, feature the only moment of levity on the album – a snatch of the 1959 Santo and Johnny instrumental “Sleepwalk”). “Countess Lola’s Blues” has a woozy grunge feel with Cait O’Riordan (Elvis Costello, The Pogues) on “Walk on the Wild Side” -style backing vocals. If you were to read these lyrics (a typical example: “Death rattle in the chest for a homemade circus”) and study his bio, you might think it’s a huge set up to launch some kind of manufactured Nick Drake figure to millennials, eager to experience some real (second hand) emotions. If Murry is putting us all on, he’s damn convincing. But I don’t think he is.
John Murry shares Mark Eitzel’s model of the damaged troubadour – his songs are intimate and confessional, revealing details that we don’t want to know but that we’re almost desperate to hear. It’s the car-crash analogy again. We don’t want to listen, but we can’t stop ourselves.
“A Short History of Decay” is a diary of a man who’s peered over the edge and half wanted to jump. It would be rude not to listen to his story.
“A Short History Of Decay” is released on July 14th 2017 via TV Records Ltd
Track listing is as follows:
1 Silver Or Lead
2 Under A Darker Moon
3 Wrong Man
4 Defacing Sunday Bulletins
5 When God Walks In
6 Come Five and Twenty
7 One Day (You’ll Die)
8 Countess Lola’s Blues ( All In This Together)
9 Miss Magdalene
10 What Jail Is Like