Having ditched his Girls, the enigmatic frontman goes solo with this bittersweet tale about dating a barmaid
“What if I’m just a bad songwriter and everything I say has been said before”, sings Christopher Owens on ‘Love Is in The Ear Of The Listener’. He adds: “What if I’m just lousy up on the stage and everybody is rolling their eyes”. Written around the time Owens’ former band Girls played their first European festival, the lyrics are ironic given just how futile Owens’ worries turned out to be. Girls, after two stunning albums and a thoroughly un-lousy live show, announced their split in July last year, with Owens losing faith in the band’s ever-changing line-up and deciding that the looser, rule-free life of a solo artist suited him best.
One play of his first solo outing and it’s clear he made the right decision. ‘Lysandre’ will be instantly familiar to fans of Girls, with many of the songs having peppered the band’s live set, though Owens has switched their destructive grandiosity for a more whimsical tone throughout. Acting as a sort of timeline through a tumultuous relationship with the eponymous French barmaid Owens met at a festival during the early days of Girls, ‘Lysandre’ tells the story of the pair’s time together.
Structured in chronological order, the album details the first meeting (‘Here We Go’) and the first flourish of new love (‘Riviera Rock’) through to the struggles of maintaining a transatlantic relationship (‘Everywhere You Knew’) and – SPOILER ALERT! – their eventual split (‘Part Of Me’). Each song feels fully formed yet tells a unique and important chapter in this period of Owens’ life. It’s a neat trick by Owens – and one, you feel, he could only have pulled off by turning his back on the band with which he made his name. Structurally then, it works. However, the quirky choice of instruments can grate slightly. Saxophones, flutes and harmonica all feature at various points on the album, which occasionally makes Mumford & Sons seem like they’re using modern techniques.
Issues with Owens’ access to instruments last used in 1986 aside, ‘Lysandre’ is an accomplished and confident first outing for a songwriter who already feels destined to nestle alongside Daniel Johnston and Elliott Smith as a master of the cult American songbook. What’s most pertinent about ‘Lysandre’, however, is not just the tunes – though many rival Girls’ finer moments, including album highlight ‘Here We Go Again’ – but imagining where Owens is going with his career. The strong streak of self-destruction running through his veins is well documented, but now runs alongside an increasingly refined talent for writing stunning songs, which makes for a fascinating combination that could well lead this 33-year-old down any number of interesting paths. Girls may be over but Christopher Owens is more alive than ever.