Peter Gabriel’s new protege has been compared to many kings of mope — Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, Joe Henry — and these comparisons are not out of context at all. Even some of Gabriel’s influence can be heard. However, my comparison might be a little more daring than all of those that have been mentioned. The year 2000 claimed for a new Stephen Patrick Morrissey to call its own, and was very impatient to wait for the breakup of Belle and Sebastian, Travis, or any other of those bands compared to The Smiths (and would they produce a new Moz anyways?). So, Joseph Arthur, in spite of belonging to a new and powerful generation of “mopers” with intelligent lyrics (along with Elliott Smith, Cat Power, Dianne Izzo, and some others), seems to have all the requirements to be the (possibly) only legitimate heir of Morrissey’s post-Smiths legacy.
Not only does Arthur share Moz’s clever and witty way of writing histories about loneliness, heartbreak, despair, and intimate goings-on (Joseph only excludes Moz’s sexual ambiguity from his book of themes), but also Moz’s way of singing. While not sharing Stephen’s distinctive silky, croony pitch, he does share the same expression of passion and intensity that lets us feel every word’s meaning.
Where Arthur differs with Morrissey is that he writes his own music and plays almost all of his instruments. But Arthur does not use that as an excuse for a huge ego. Instead, our guy is smart enough to ask for help from such great talents as T‑Bone Burnett (Sam Phillips, U2) for production and Markus Dravs (Bj – rk, Peter Gabriel), for programming. The result is an undeniably delicious and eclectic record with poetic and brutally honest songs.
“Ashes Everywhere” is the theme with a folky feeling, but constructed in a very delicate way. In the same style, but with more rhythm and a Nick Cave-ish violence, is “Creation or a Stain.” We find “Chemical” to be a theme that could easily fit on any Beck record, due to its mixture of folk and modern techno rhythms. “Exhausted” is the answer to Richard Ashcroft’s “New York” melodies, with more rock and less technology. “Invisible Hands” seems like it was originally written by Mark Sandman (who himself has had a heavy Leonard Cohen influence), but adapted to Joseph’s way. The rest are beautiful songs which recall some of the best work of Nick Drake (“Cockroach”), Morrissey (“Eyes on My Back,” “Tatoo” ) and sometimes both within the same song (just listen to “In The Sun” and the beautiful ballad “History”).
In a few words, Joseph Arthur might hopefully now have the recognition that his talent deserves… And everybody besides me might now see him as Morrissey’s American counterpart (or, if you prefer, the next Morrissey).
Written by Pekky Marquez.