Like many, I first fell in love with Glen Hansard in the film Once. It took all of about thirty seconds of him singing for me to know that I’d made the right choice in seeing the film. His vocal on “Say It To Me Now” is one of my favorite performances of all-time. The heartbreak and anger in his voice is remarkable. He emotes like few can. I had never really listened to The Frames other than a couple of tracks here and there, and to this day I haven’t really given them a fair shake because I don’t feel like their material matches the power of the soundtrack to this movie. Coupled with Marketa Irglova, they created what is arguably the best movie soundtrack of the century so far. Following the film Hansard and Irglova continued to make music together and put out a couple records.
This is where things get a bit dicey for me. I understand that they were dating for a while, and it makes sense that their musical duo should continue since the music they made the first time was so good. The problem is, nothing on either of their follow-ups came even close to the quality of Once. It all felt a bit rushed and honestly I feel like they were happy just to be playing together regardless of the songs. That’s not to say it was all garbage. There are a couple songs on their self-titled debut and Strict Joy that I like, but it just doesn’t have the same feel. The two broke up romantically prior to Strict Joy‘s release. Irglova put out a record last year called Anar that I could barely make it through. I never officially reviewed it because that would mean I’d have to listen to it again. Now Hansard has made his first solo album, which drops next Tuesday.
The name of the album is Rhythm And Repose, and unfortunately it’s much more the latter than the former. I was wondering how Hansard would be without anyone to play off of, and the answer is not what I was expecting. He has such a strong voice and good mind for songwriting, so I was amazed that the album is such a bore. There are a couple brilliant flashes in the middle section, but for the most part I have been disappointed. I don’t think the blame falls only on Hansard, though. Lyrically the album is pretty sharp, if a bit obvious. I think the fact that Irglova married soon after their breakup played a big role in a lot of the songs.
I think some of the poor decisions fall on producer Tom Bartlett, who is the same age as me and has worked with a ridiculously impressive list of musicians. The arrangements aren’t always great, and there are some pieces of added production that aren’t at all necessary. I think the album would benefit from a raw, but clean, version of just Hansard and his guitar and maybe a little piano. There are exceptions, of course. The song “Talking With The Wolves” wouldn’t be able to exist without all the added sonic tricks.
The first track from Rhythm And Repose that really sticks out to me is “High Hope.” The song first appeared on a collection called Music Of Ireland: Welcome Home, and I’m not entirely sure that these versions are different at all. The reason it’s the first to get my attention is that through the first three tracks everything feels very flat. “High Hope” is the first time the raw nerve of Hansard’s gets exposed and he unleashes an emotional avalanche.
The following song, “Bird Of Sorrow,” is my favorite on the album. It’s also the only one that captures everything I love about Hansard both musically and lyrically. He’s a builder. Always starting soft and getting stronger as the tune calls for it. On this one he begins with piano and his voice. As we move forward we get layered with guitar and violin, all the while his voice grows louder and louder until he’s screaming at the top of his lungs. The song seems to be about two people still needing each other after they’ve ended their relationship. The refrain is affecting:
Tethered to a bird of sorrow
A voice that’s buried in the hollow
You’ve given over to self-deceivin’
Your prostrate bowed would not be leavin’
You’ve squandered more than you could borrow
You’ve bet your joys on all tomorrows
For the hope of some returnin’
While everything around just burnin’
The real power of the song comes in the final lines, which Hansard hollers over and over, “I’m not leaving you yet. I’m hangin’ on.”
It’s always odd for me to hear that twenty some odd years into a career someone decides to go solo. I’m not sure what it is, but something clicks in my head that says “This isn’t going to work.” Sometimes it’s wrong, and others it’s right, but it’s always there. In Hansard’s case I think he just needed some space and time away from everyone to sort out what direction he wanted to go. He didn’t venture too far out of his comfort zone, but he now has something he can call his own, and hopefully that gives him some kind of solace.
While Rhythm and Repose isn’t a great piece of work, there are some pieces that make it worth checking out. If you’re a fan of Glen’s than you will be picking this up regardless, and you may like it a bit more than I did. I watched some live clips of him playing these songs acoustically, and that seems to be the way they should be enjoyed. I’m not really giving this a recommendation, but I would say to check out his live show whenever he comes to town. In Chicago that’s June 26th (it’s sold out).