Former God Machine frontman rediscovers the heavy rock within him

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The Good Sheppard

One man’s admirable determination might well be another’s absurd bloody-mindedness, but whatever their view, no one could ever call Robin Proper-Sheppard a quitter.

As singer-songwriter and guitarist with The God Machine, a power trio who relocated to London from their native San Diego in 1991 and soon made a name for themselves in the underground with their near-apocalyptic live shows, Proper-Sheppard has had his crosses to bear. His band’s mix of heavy and hypnotic, quasi-classical metal and starkly vocalised emotion was never fully understood by his record company, and consequently attracted no more than a cult following. Additionally, on the eve of the release of their second album, 1995’s One Last Laugh In A Place Of Dying, drummer and school friend Jimmy Fernandez died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage. Both professionally disillusioned and personally traumatised by this loss, Proper-Sheppard released the album as a mark of respect before withdrawing from writing and performing altogether to concentrate instead on running his own record label, The Flower Shop.

Sophia is his post-God Machine project, now seven years old and with three albums to their credit. The third, People Are Like Seasons sees Proper-Sheppard and the mutable “Sophia collective” shifting away from the acoustic minimalism and mournful, almost morbid beauty of their first two albums towards something rather more tough and meaty. Previous comparisons with Red House Painters, Mark Eitzel and Sparklehorse are no longer exclusively appropriate; it seems of late Proper-Sheppard’s been cranking up the volume on his Joy Division, Mogwai and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club records, too.

Take the beats-driven “Darkness (Another Shade In Your Black)”-whose title now sounds wryly self-aware rather than portentous, as it once might have?which recalls Soundgarden messing with Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. Or the driving “If A Change Is Gonna Come”, where Proper-Sheppard stamps hard on the fuzz pedal and wraps his distorted vocal around the line, “Life’s a bitch?and then you die”, somehow avoiding clich