Can an artist that flew like Icarus (and fell likewise) recover his faith on the system? Read on.
The world of music is a hard, long road that never is truly secure. Scratch that, any creative venture is filled with uncertainties, but it seems music is the de facto example of how it can all go horribly wrong.
You could ask Matt Abbott, aka Skint & Demoralised.
Back in 2008, he was primed to great things. His stand up routines had given him enough confidence to do poetry and through the magic of the Internet, they had been musicalised by a friend. He got signed to a certain record company (that can fuck off) to release an album, under his Skint & Demoralised moniker. The first single, ‘The Thrill of 30 seconds’ had some good reviews and the following single, ‘This song is not about you’, full of flowery seventies pop sensibilities, had a big launch.
I know because I was there.
Gorgeous girls were giving away badges, postcards and talking highly of the song. A slick haired executive half saw the show while typing on his Blackberry. The audience seemed to be quite receptive in that room that used to house Fuzz Club. And, hey, it was the first time I saw Hey Sholay. I reviewed that night (just like the singles) and thought that the fella was into something good.
And then, it all went pear shaped.
The album, Love, and other tragedies, never came out. For months I did try to keep on track of the album but the light never shone. There are rumours and half-truths, but the one person who knew the real reason (and suffered the heartbreak) was Mr. Abbott. It looked all gloomy.
Flash forward to 2010.
A random conversation on twitter, a couple of keystrokes on google and lo and behold, Matt Abbott and Skint & Demoralised were there, plain as light. After a quick trip to Wakefield (that strange city and its haunted rail station), I got to chat with Matt. It was a good interview, full of great tidbits, with the best one being that he was back on the music circuit, now as an independent and with a full band. He still seemed a little wary about jumping again into the fray, but that Northern attitude seems to help lots.
So, after a few mishaps, shady record deals that went nowhere and a new album and sound under his arm, here we are, last stretch of 2011 and Love, and other tragedies and This sporting life have now been released.
Love, and other tragedies is a good document of what Skint & Demoralised (and Matt, of course) were 3 years ago. The wide-eyed lovelorn lyrics, the sweet voice, the fluidity of the slice-of-life lyrics, it all sounds nice but never safe. It’s not an album fulled of pent-up anger, but there are other emotions flying around. ‘The Thrill of 30 seconds’ (incidentally, my first review for the University of Sheffield newspaper) is still my fave from that album, but ‘Red lipstick’ and ‘Failing to see the attraction’ are keepers.
If anything, the only problem with the album would be that the creation of vocals and music were apart, that is, all vocals were composed before the music came into the equation. It’s a very minor nitpick, as miniDog, the instrumentalist that went to town with the pop sounds, did a great job.
This changes with This Sporting life. I’d hate to use the word “mature” as it’s too early on Skint & Demoralised‘s career to throw that overused crutch of musical criticism (itself a limping dinosaur waiting praying for the asteroid), so let’s just say it’s a very cohesive album. It feels more organic in the sense that it is a full blown band creating and breathing a rarefied mix that only comes from a mutual effort of creation.
The vocal delivery has changed too. It’s not only due to the tides of time, but also because Matt Abbott is more into a singing mood here instead of the vocal/stream-of-consciousness delivery. Although there are quite a few prime cuts, it’s ‘Did it all go to plan’ the one that feels best, possibly because it sounds so personal (and honest too). Those are the best type of songs.
Have I mentioned the sound is more cohesive? Nothing personal against Love, and other tragedies, but the flow of this album is akin to a smooth ride, no speed bumps on your way, no hidden cozzer in the shrubs waiting for you to drive at 21 mph in the village.
I blame Jeremy Clarkson, but then again, I would, wouldn’t I?
In the end, it all comes to change. This might not be the only album where there is a marked change in the life (and career) of a musician, but it’s a bonafide example of how a sick industry can try to destroy a young lad’s dreams and how said young lad would go back into hiding, recover and once more charge into the breach, now with a group of well armed friends and a new target.
Well done, Mr. Abbott and friends. You might be without dosh, but you sure have your spirits high.