Willy’s world takes a dark turn, but he has enough depth to stop the ship from sinking
There’s nothing more cynical than a bruised romantic; and few more brutal ways of getting this across than country rock. We’re not entirely sure what Martha’s Vineyard resident Willy Mason has been doing to himself in the two years since ‘Where The Humans Eat’, but it doesn’t sound very good for the soul. Willy, you’ll remember, was one of the few people to give ‘troubadours’ a good name in recent years – chiefly down to his signature song ‘Oxygen’, the campfire lament about wanting to speak louder than Ritalin for all the children who think that they’ve got a disease, and being louder than bombs if you’re singing along and wanting to buy the world a Coke. Okay, not the last bit. He had plenty of other great songs, but that one was so special it became a counter-cultural hymn and bagged him a tour across Europe with Radiohead.
While there’s equally great songs here, something’s changed. Cosmetically, ‘If The Ocean Gets Rough’ is shinier and crisper, without losing its rough edges. But more fundamentally, Willy sings in a deeper register, and so from the title down, everything is more morose. ‘Save Myself’ may be in the same vein as ‘Oxygen’, but gone is the commie pied piper, displaced by a man so beaten down by the selfish folk and free market economics he can only look out for number one in a world “when the vultures copyright the word ‘free’”. Elsewhere, the riptide is getting him down (‘Riptide’), the leaves are falling (‘When The Leaves Have Fallen’), he’s reached the end of the race (‘The End Of The Race’) and the ocean is getting rough.
Mason is still clearly a special talent with an equal skill for conveying sorrow and joy and hope. Maybe his dream can be saved, but, if only because feeling sad isn’t as good as feeling happy, this isn’t as enjoyable as before.