We're now over halfway through 2022, so I think I'm relatively safe in making this prediction: I've just been listening to the Album Of The Year.
Michael Head has been doing the rounds since the early 80s - first as a member of The Pale Fountains, then in Shack. When Shack folded ("went on hiatus" is the usual phrase), he struck out on his own with Michael Head Introducing The Strands for a single album until Shack re-formed, folded again and he convened the Red Elastic Band.
His past ventures have often been critically acclaimed, but rarely passing over into commercial success. This may explain why I was unaware of his work until introduced to this album - and now I really believe I need to do some archive digging (The Pale Fountains were pretty good weren't they - how did I miss them? Not reading the NME in 1985 I suppose)
And so to this one - his tenth under various guises - and the opening two tracks "Kismet" and "Broken Beauty" could well be enough to secure the annual crown on their own, but what follows just reinforces the contention.
The whole album is fully formed, brimming with light and warmth, but also has passing weariness, and a brittle human condition feeling about it. And Bill Ryder-Jones production just lifts and shines everything - not a trace of mud herein.
Right from the start, the influences are worn on the sleeve - Love very much in evidence, but at times sounding like a bastard son of Love, The Byrds, The Coral, Richard Hawley and Scott Walker.
At this point I should qualify that the Dear Scott of the title is not Walker, but F Scott Fitzgerald.
Dear Scott refers to novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose debt-ridden, down-and-out years captured the imagination of Head, specifically a postcard Fitzgerald addressed to himself upon checking in at Hollywood’s infamous Golden Age retreat, The Garden Of Allah Hotel. Head explains: “A decade after being the king of the jazz age, Fitzgerald arrived unfashionable and sober, ready to conquer Hollywood. His agent with a sense of humour booked him into The Garden Of Allah, where writers, movie stars and even Stravinsky sometimes lived. He famously picked up a postcard on checking in and addressed it to himself.”
Right from the start, the influences are worn on the sleeve, but this aint no nostalgia-fest, or repeating the tricks of others. This is a singular effort, mixing psych, folk, jangle, and singer-songwriter oeuvre.
Much like an obvious touchstone - Love's 'Forever Changes' * - the songs themselves may not be vying for the title of greatest song ever written when standing alone, but in the context of the album become greater than the sum of their parts, and prove Michael Head to be a songwriter of some renown.
* I know, it's the second reference to Love in this text - apologies for the apparent dis-service. There is so much more going on here