This Town is more acoustic in tone giving rise to James singing voice in a quieter setting. The vocal is impressive, you get to hear it and appreciate it more in the quieter songs like this. This song floats along, pleasantly enough but it’s the next song that is the albums pure gold. Smile. This is one of the nicest songs I have ever heard, and I don’t mean ‘nice’ like when you mean I couldn’t care less about it but I have to give an opinion. No lies, this song deserves greater attention that it has or will probably get and it’s where the vocal style, the instrumentation and the lyric all meet perfectly. I cannot speak highly enough about this song, the vocal style is James Taylor-ish (Fire and Rain). It is just James Marsters’ vocal and a piano accompaniment and it is all you need. “She kisses me goodbye, for the sixteenth time!” the way he sings that line, and the whole song quite frankly is enough reason for anyone to own this album. Smile is one of many songs which has been written about a girlfriend, it seems to be quite a theme for him and it will be interesting to see or rather hear his writing develop into other areas but he is writing about what is true to him and you cannot blame him for that.
For What I Need is another girl related song this time more bluesy, complete with harmonica for good measure. Long Time is a three minute plea to a person from the past with some nice instrumentation and a trumpet sound which is very Beatlesy in a way, very Penny Lane…catchy. Every Man Thinks God Is On His Side sees James go a little bit country, with a chorus which lends itself to line dancing, another one with a strong melody and enough bits in the lyric and music to make you remember it on your way to work. At least to my knowledge this song is not lover related, it attempts a more general world view which can apply to anyone, different stories from different perspectives and here James is only the story teller in third party mode.
When he does come back to the more contemplative material you cannot argue that he does it well. There may be a great deal of thoughtful, almost melancholic songs. Poor Robyn is another one, almost certainly personal but this song works. The laid back percussion and the acoustic guitar provide a late night feel, a little sleepy in the best way. The strings in the background provide a counter to James’ vocal which again is delicately delivered. By now in the album we’ve had the catchy, the bluesy, the country, the delightful and a song or two named after a girls name. The three songs remaining are more up-tempo and provide a welcome pick me up.
No Promises is a strong track both musically and the lyrics show promise as well. I haven’t seen James in concert but if he ever does a set with full band accompanying him I can see this being a favourite for many, he does his solo acoustic sets now and plays this song there and it is very well received. Patricia is musically interesting but I can’t help feel that the lyrics are something of a let down, the music goes somewhere while the words fall a little flat. Another song about a girl…
It seems as if James is stuck in the four basic song writing themes at the moment. I love you, I hate you, I don’t want you back, I do want you back. Some writers have argued that you can write any song in the world and it will still fit into one or more of those four themes, James seems content with writing about old or new girlfriends and if he ever branches out of those themes we would have a very interesting new collection from him.
The last song on the album is one of the best, the title track Civilized Man sees only James and a slightly double tracked vocal with his acoustic guitar. The reason I like this is because it isn’t the happy, tuneful ballad time of acoustic tune. His playing is basic, straightforward and once again in touch with the blues. This song has soul, no cheesy lyric, it made me sit up and say there HE is. Not hiding behind a catchy song about an ex, not getting us to sing along with his yeah yeahs. All that stuff has its place on this record for better or worse but this song is one of the few times I actually felt that the song was real. This is me, take it or leave it, and even when the music stops he tells us ‘that’s it, got no more to say’. Direct, to the point, a very good end and hopefully something he will pick up in the future.
Reasons to buy this album: Smile is a work of art, This Town, Bad, Civilized Man are great songs for varying reasons. Above all, the plus points of this album would be elevated if they were on any other more accepted artists album. The fact that you probably don’t know that this man can sing is not a good enough reason to ignore songs like this. This is by no means a complete collection and it doesn’t knock you down from first to last but listen and you will hear a great voice and some real moments of class.
© Simon A. Moult / Moultymedia 2007
All rights reserved. Copying is prohibited without prior permission from the author.