Almost Cured of Sadness (review)
Stephen Jones – Almost Cured of Sadness – Album
Not everyone may be aware that Stephen Jones, the man who penned the unavoidable mid-90s ode-to-an-attractive-car “You’re Gorgeous” (as Babybird) has a musical history to rival the most prolific, diverse and integral of singer-songwriters. That hit was undoubtedly his commercial peak, while his lesser known but decidedly more appealing and creative works have attracted more of a cult-status.
Almost Cured of Sadness is a return to the lo-fi recording techniques favoured on Jones’ earlier albums (this is, in fact, his tenth!), and we get the distinct impression that this may be his preferred approach. The album is awash with grubby samples, an indie-inclined hip-hop premise (much like Aim – whose Good Disease featured Stephen) and an overwhelming and candid child-like innocence, helped in part by Jones’ benevolent, daydreaming kid vocal-style.
Tracks like Keys To The Brain are packed full of deformed melodies, giving the impression that Jones has simply recorded all of his initial ideas, without spending much time trying to mould them into something more traditional. If this holds any element of truth then more power to him, though one suspects this effect is one borne of experience – making it all the more impressive.
One of the many highlights is the almost Christmassy Cured of Sadness; a rare beauty that hides a near perfect radio melody under a cleverly understated production. The grand chorus is perhaps the best use of a vocal effect that appears throughout – the one that sounds like you’ve turned the treble up too high and everything has become distorted. As Stephen Jones is patently aware of – do this at the right moment and the warped results can be very rewarding.
The following hip-pop workout, American Dream, cradles a typically ripe tune with just enough of a throwaway edge to it, though perseveres with the fairly straightforward chorus for a smidgeon too long during the finale. And while the healthily varied mixture and quality of sounds is what might first grab your attention, there are moments, such as on Your Time, where a clinically produced, throbbing bass-line appears out of nowhere, grabbing the listener’s intrigue and pricking your ears up no end.
“TVs on/So what’s wrong?”, he croons at the start of Radio’s Been Thinking Again, one of Jones’ more pensive offerings. Retaining all of the childlike innocence so evident up to this point, he appears to be coming to terms with his own addiction to trash television and the strange warmth that seems to come with it. “Radio’s been thinking again/I can’t turn it off” he then whimpers over a typically lazy hip-hop beat, avoiding the somewhat easier to articulate anti-TV sentiments you might expect from rhetoric-devotees such as Moby, in favour of tackling the matter head-on with all his vulnerability laid open for the world to see.
The subsequent ballad, Someplace Too Faraway, twists into pure end-of-night introspection, conjuring images of all the harsh realities that only seem to present themselves when you’re at your most exposed. The mood swings continue with the markedly less easy to decipher Quaaludes, which lyrically recalls Beck in all his “garbageman-trees” nonsensical glory, while invoking a soothing quality which may (or may not) imply that Jones has faced his monsters and come out the other side – eccentric-kid melodies and dusty production fetish intact.
The album as a whole is almost like finding an old, much-loved toy covered in a mature layer of syrupy dust. Not a plastic, gun-toting action figure – more a carefully carved and painted wooden creation, of wholesome intention and possessing an inescapable element of nostalgia. If this doesn’t appeal, then consider this – any album whose last song proper ends with a goblin-child voice muttering the immortal words, “Hey Jesus, Fuck You”, must be worth a listen or three.
Almost Cured of Sadness is released through Sanctuary Records on Monday the 3rd of March, 2003. Watch this space for a forthcoming interview with the great man himself…
by Rory Grant – 28-2-2003