Beautifully illustrates the talent of its author, on a level he dictates.
Al Fox 2011-06-06
Where a slow-burning, word of mouth campaign was hugely beneficial to Jon Allen – his debut album, 2009’s Dead Man’s Suit, was given a sizeable leg-up by one track’s use in a Land Rover campaign, while champions included Jo Whiley, Jools Holland and Emmylou Harris – second album Sweet Defeat not only has the task of matching this, but is also burdened with the albatross of assumed instant impact. But it seems as though that’s the last thing Allen is worried about.
While his passport may substantiate the on-paper Britishness of this Hampshire-born artist, his yarns and philosophies paint a picture of a grizzled American folk musician, decades of abandon behind him. Sweet Defeat, in this vein, employs good honest rock'n'roll ideals, actioned via a collection of simple, folksy melodies.
Opener Joanna offers a thoughtful helping of drive-along Americana, while the bluesy strum and unembroidered narrative of Lucky I Guess lightens the tone. But the remainder of Sweet Defeat is largely an introverted, country-flecked affair, with a serene modesty permeating proceedings. A few sparse examples of sober attitude depict a more ballsy side to Allen, in particular the teeth-bearing stance of No One Gets Out of Here Alive. But for the most part, his subtly gravelly tone covertly achieves this, regardless of each track’s own theme.
Truth be told, Allen doesn't have the most urgent identity. The robust, muscular intricacies of his voice do unveil themselves over time, but on the surface Sweet Defeat bears no quirks or gimmicks or immediate distinctiveness. And yet, rather than resulting in generic indifference, it actually provides a sizeable part of its charm. Sweet Defeat doesn't set out to conquer the iPods of a billion consumers – it simply, and rather beautifully, illustrates the talent of its author, on a level he dictates. And you can’t help feel that, no matter how many eminent ears he manages to prick up, that’s an understated tenacity he won’t ever stray from.