by ANTONY CLAY
THE eighth album by welsh folk noir band Songdog is called A Happy Ending. Hopefully it isn’t actually going to be an ending of any sort, and Happy? Well, this is Songdog so any happiness is tinged with a fair degree of cynicism, tragedy and loss.
Having said that, this offering from the three funsters – Lyndon Morgans, Karl Woodward and Dave Paterson – is probably their most approachable album for many moons with a heady and intriguing mix of the gloomy angst that fans of the band will be well used to and rather more upbeat tunes that you could almost sing along to. Almost. If you were in the mood.
Songdog aren’t a band you would slip on the hi-fi preparing for a Saturday night out (assuming the night out will include a pleasant meal and a night club) but they also aren’t a band to set the mood for the final stage of a suicide pact. Far from it, Songdog’s songwriter Lyndon serves up a healthy dose of cynicism, sarcasm, world weariness and even dark humour which draws you in.
His observations of life, particularly the pitfalls of that old teaser and tormentor love, are spot on and very often startling, and the music has a hypnotic effect and an attractive straightforwardness.
Lyndon loves words, that is clear enough, and milks the word cow with subtlety and determination to create just the right phrase to surprise you, to catch you out. If you want meaningless lyrics about lovers skipping through fields and encouraging the world to sing along then don’t come here; if you want someone who uses the full power of words to explore emotion then this might just be for you.
Think Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, some of the better poets of our past, and consider what they could do with a well-honed metaphor, rhyme or image. That’s the territory we’re in here.
The album kicks off with a distinct Irish feel with Lavinia, a plea to be treated well by a younger woman. “I’m no stallion, I know/but please be kind to this aching old nag,” urges the desperate Mr Morgans to said Lavinia. You know it’s not going to end well and there can be few songwriters who can get across the emptiness of a one-way romance, or indeed the thwarted optimism of a suitor set for disappointment.
We get bluesy in G-Flat Gumbo, one of the album’s definite highlights. This track sees shared vocals between Lyndon and Phil Burdett. At least one of the two singers sounds as if he has bathed his vocal chords in whisky and nicotine for some considerable time – to fantastic effect.
True to form, A Happy Ending (the song) turns the initial chirpiness down to provide quite a moving little number about reminiscence and affection. As the song says, “Time feeds on the joys and the sorrows”.
My favourite track is the next one, God Don’t Believe In Me No More. The words are brilliant and sum up a life which the narrator feels has somewhat gone awry, to put it nicely. “Does the Devil want me cooked or want me raw?” asks the singer, before later adding, “I blew a whole week’s money last night in the liquor store/ ‘cos God don’t believe in me no more.” Oh, the misery. We’ve all been there, some for longer than others. But there is a gritty hint of sarcasm, cynicism and bile here which lifts the song from being maudlin. It really is a good tune.
This is a top album. Well produced, well written, well performed. Songdog are a law unto themselves and this album sees them ploughing even deeper that individual but rewarding furrow they’ve dug out for themselves. That was a compliment, a big one. Keep on ploughing, boys!
For all its sadness, its melancholy, its pain, this album is a really fulfilling experience for anyone who appreciates thoughtful. dramatic and sometimes shocking music. I hope A Happy Ending is more a happy continuation to even better things.