At this point in time, I think I’ve become more excited by the idea of a Piano Magic album than the actual album itself. Glen Johnson et al. have spent the last sixteen years building a career out of maudlin and morose music, but while their despair was once captivating and even invigorating, now it just feels like they’re taking the piss out of folks.
Their latest, Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet, is full of the band’s usual musings on the futility of existence, the dark side of relationships, and so on. As such, there are philosophical conundrums in the album’s songs: if life really is as meaningless as “You Don’t Need Me To Tell You” suggests, and as capricious as the darkly humorous title track implies, then who really cares if “the way we treat the animals will govern how we’re judged” (“The Way We Treat The Animals”)? What weight do such ethical concerns actually have when nothing truly matters?
However, the band doesn’t seem the slightest bit interested in exploring such puzzles so much as singing these songs because, hey, this is Piano Magic we’re talking about here, and this is the sort of stuff they sing about. It’s all rather predictable. What’s more, in the face of the album’s stifling nihilistic bent, sentiments like “Do not suppose there is no hope/Do not forget you’re not alone” (“A Secret Never Told”) sound more like a cop-out than the poignant moment I suspect they were intended to be.
Musically, the album is a bit more interesting. Piano Magic has long owed a debt to the gloomy atmospherics of 4AD’s early days, but that debt has rarely been deeper than here. You’d be forgiven for expecting Brendan Perry’s rich baritone to make a stately appearance, especially on “Judas” with its serpentine electronics and Middle Eastern textures. “Lost Antiphony” benefits from a ghostly choir of female vocals and a woozy flute, and the aforementioned “The Way We Treat The Animals” features a lovely denouement, with Áine O’Dwyer’s delicate harp ringing out against mournful strings and guitar drones. But even such interesting moments as these fail to redeem the album.
Piano Magic have never written happy, uplifting songs, and it would have been foolish to expect them to do so here. Their gloomy music has begun to run out of steam as of late, however. 1999’s Low Birth Weight is as stark as anything on Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet, perhaps even moreso, but it’s never less than raw and bracing. The few bright spots here do little to dispel the notion that, at this point, Piano Magic lacks some crucial amount of conviction in their music, or that these songs are the result of the band having fallen into some aesthetic rut.