On the cover of ‘A New Testament’, his second solo album, Christopher Owens is wearing a pink cowboy hat, a fringed leather waistcoat and a dopey smile. Flanked by the singers and musicians that appear on the album, the former Girls singer’s pasty midriff is on display and black tassels hang over his arm. By contrast, on the sleeve of Girls’ 2006 debut ‘Album’ he had looked unhealthy, clutching his guitar. He didn’t feature on the front of the San Francisco band’s second and final record ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’ – instead its lyrics were printed in a block of different fonts and emotions while ‘Lysandre’, his solo bow, showed him in uncomfortable close up, lank hair hiding his face.
The fun, extrovert artwork of ‘A New Testament’ reflects a change in attitude for the 35-year-old. Since breaking up Girls in 2012, he’s kicked his drug habit, maintained a long-term relationship and, judging by his Twitter feed, is usually reading, smoking, or watching football. The flute and brass that characterised ‘Lysandre’ are mercifully absent here, replaced by country, gospel and R&B. But in chasing a classic American sound, Owens comes off cheesy (‘Key To My Heart’) and unbearably retro (‘A Heart Akin The Wind’). ‘My Troubled Heart’ is questionable too, its twanging riff apes George Michael’s ‘Faith’. But Owens sounds unconcerned: he’s overflowing with love, focused on building a freewheeling sound. Neither playing nor production can be faulted; it’s just that Owens in this mood doesn’t feel quite right.
Moments when his former wretchedness is recognisable rescue the album. The surging ‘It Comes Back To You’ does glorious misery (“When you feel like you could die…”) in the vein of Girls classics like ‘Lauren Marie’. ‘Overcoming Me’ – written in 2008 – finds Owens on incurably sad form and ‘Nobody’s Business’ could have been a Girls hit. The gospel swell of ‘Stephen’, which recounts death, divorce and alienation, successfully marries the new Owens with the old. Overall though, newfound happiness means he’s unable to channel the desperation that made his old band great.