If Empyrean Records’ website is to be believed, Eric Matthews has undergone some pretty extreme measures in his attempts to satisfy his muse, including the application of leeches and trepanation. And I don’t suppose I really blame him. It’s been far too long since the world has had the pleasure of hearing Matthews’ croon and gorgeous arrangements — eight years to be exact, since his last studio effort, 1997’s The Lateness of the Hour.
But label troubles and industry woes all conspired to keep him under low profile without a record contract, relegating him to work as an arranger, songwriter, session musician, and guest vocalist — most notably on Tahiti 80’s debut album. However, it appears that 2005 is the year Eric Matthews fans have long been waiting for. Not only has he just released Six Kinds of Passion Looking for an Exit, but a re-issue of Cardinal’s (Matthews’ project with The Moles’ Richard Davies) one and only album is also in the works. The only question that remains is whether or not the wait has been worth it.
First off, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Those looking for the glorious flourishes that initially announced Matthews to the world — who can forget the first time they heard “Fanfare“ ‘s triumphant intro? — will be disappointed. In fact, there is little on Six Kinds of Passion Looking for an Exit that comes close to matching the soaring arrangements and ebullient strings that literally drenched Matthews’ previous albums and made them so intoxicating. This album is a much more reserved and restrained effort, perhaps reflecting certain reservations about getting back into the game.
However, I’ll be completely honest — even with the album’s shortcomings, and I hesitate to label them as such, it just feels so good to hear Matthews’ breathy vocals and cryptic-yet-affecting lyrics that I don’t really care. Six Kinds of Passion Looking for an Exit may be a simpler album, but that doesn’t mean it’s not lush and gorgeous in its own way. Even in their stripped down form, the effortless melodies are just as prevalent, the moody sounds and textures are still there waiting to be soaked up. In fact, even as I write this, “Cardinal is More“ ‘s pensive trumpet denouement is drifting over the speakers, and I find myself getting chills.
On “Underground Song,” Matthews sings “Why can’t I be true/Why must I be constantly failing/When did it all run dry/Where did I go I’m terribly sailing in waters that hate me” accompanied with nothing more than a stark acoustic guitar. He finally finds relief “in no sound… no sound at all.” Thankfully, considering Matthews’ recent upsurge in activity, I doubt that these lyrics imply this is all we’ll hear from Matthews. Indeed, the album ends on a much more triumphant note.
Backed by silver, piercing trumpet notes (shades of “Fanfare”) and a marching beat, Matthews proclaims “Through the will of the gods/I’ll write this down” before finally concluding concluding the album with a reference to “healing light.” Perhaps the leeches and trepanation did serve a purpose, and this album was merely Matthews getting all of his reservations and shaking off any skepticism or worries, and preparing for bigger and better things. From interviews like this one, that certainly seems to be the case. I can’t speak for the rest of you, but I, for one, am glad to have the man back in action and can’t wait to hear what comes next.