Three years ago, Whitley sent shockwaves through the Australian folk community, and the hearts of many teenage girls (myself included) at the announcement of an indefinite hiatus from music. Now in July 2013 hope is restored with the announcement of Whitley’s appearance at Splendour In The Grass and an East-Coast tour. It seems a three-year trip around the world was a sharp reminder for Lawrence Greenwood of where his talents lie. And, thank god for that, because now we have Even the Stars are a Mess.
On first listen, the album doesn’t feel greatly different from previous releases The Submarine and Go Forth, Find Mammoth. The bittersweet songs still flirt with themes of death and search for meaning, but with a greater level of intimacy.
What is immediately obvious in this production is that the album feels cleaner than past releases. However, it lacks the big sounds and variety of instrumentation found in Go Forth, Find Mammoth. But, this is not entirely a bad thing. The tracks are stripped back with lyrics in their rightful place at the forefront. Where they exist, instrumentals consist of simple organ lines and whimsical guitar riffs building up to the unique vibes.
The sentiments on ‘Ok’ sum up Whitley’s talents as a songwriter. The lyrics speak of impermanency – dreams, nightmares, fears and curiosity are all accompanied by a single gorgeous guitar riff. Whilst it is desolate, the lyrics are more questioning than anything else as once again we get a taste of Whitley’s endless obsession with meaning. It is the most beautiful song on the album.
“It is not a mean world, it’s beautiful, I’ve seen it,” sings Whitley on first track ‘The Ballad of Terence McKenna’. He sings of making the most of life, through the story of philosopher and scientist Terence McKenna. The track introduces a new positivity to Whitley’s music that is unique in comparison to past releases and that echoes throughout the album. From the Title track, we get the sense that Whitley has seen some things, and he’s feeling a bit better than before.
The album is a remarkable combination of slow ballads and driving beats. Other highlights include sweet single ‘My Heart is not a Machine’ and the reflective and haunting ballad ‘Alone, never alone’.
While Whitley’s latest release is not musically or lyrically a ground-breaking track, it is still a solid release due to his delicate riffs and energetic driving beats that speak of newfound optimism. I believe that this album will please loyal fans and new listeners respectively. Welcome back Whitley, we’ve missed you.