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.