Wild Mercury Sound

Dressed Up For The Letdown

John Mulvey

I'm not sure what kind of symmetry this represents, but Richard Swift's new album begins with the sound of tapdancing and nears a close with him crooning, rather sweetly, "I wish I were dead most of the time." "Dressed Up For The Letdown" is Swift's third album, and is a concept album of sorts. It's about a singer-songwriter - let's call him Richard Swift - who struggles for years without success, cursing the ignorance of the labels who refuse to sign him.

There's a whole heap of irony here, not least because "Dressed Up For The Letdown" is being released in the UK on Polydor and Swift is now poised for, I hope, a reasonable amount of success. He's one of those prolific types who has such a backlog of songs that each release is a snapshot of a state of mind that he grew out of three or four years ago.

So "Dressed Up" presents Swift as fatally resigned to obscurity, while hype-monkeys like me jump around him and call him the new Rufus Wainwright, or the new Harry Nilsson, or maybe a bit of a Laurel Canyon Sufjan Stevens. He's great, clearly. We first came across him at Uncut a couple of years ago, when the fine Indiana label, Secretly Canadian, put out his first two albums, "The Novelist" and "Walking Without Effort". Both had been out before, though I suspect no-one besides Swift's immediate family and the Secretly Canadian A&R actually heard them.

Like "Dressed Up", they showed Swift's gift for imbuing contemporary singer-songwriting with a kind of faded, Tin Pan Alley charm. There's a lot of gramophone crackle, and a sort of audio sepiatint that's reminiscent of Van Dyke Parks circa "Song Cycle". A different Americana, I suppose.

And it's terrific. Swift has enough charm and skill so that, even at his most maudlin, he sounds playful. He can also put together a neat and direct pop song: check out the video for "Kisses For The Misses" at his Myspace. Now he's got all the suffering out of the way, there's a lot more in his songwriting file like this one.

I'm off to Domino Records in a minute to hear the Arctic Monkeys album, by the way. I'll try and report back tomorrow.


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