An artist whose own identity is lost between his Tom Waits and Neil Young LPs.
Rob Crossan 2011-10-11
Huge skies, abandoned prairies, tall grasses – all the requisite elements of the American frontier are present and correct on Marcus Foster’s debut album. Released on the Communion imprint, which has had its profile raised by the success Mumford & Sons’ club nights of the same name, this is an album which begs to be taken seriously – but doesn’t quite convince.
There’s nothing wrong with the atmospherics, which evoke thoughts of a movie sunset over a rural stateside horizon, at any given time between the original True Grit and No Country for Old Men. Foster’s voice is a raspingly authentic 40-cigarettes-a-day croak, and he lets rip convincingly on tracks such as Shadows of the City. Here, he speaks of "the air breathing down your neck like a ghost step by your side," over a backdrop of guitars that squeak like motel bed springs. Yet there’s no hiding from the fact that we have been down this gritted country road a few thousand times before.
It’s no surprise for a debut album to wear its influences boldly, but the sense that Foster is playing it safe, finding warmth between the sleeves of his Neil Young and Tom Waits collection, is somewhat overwhelming on a number of tracks. Faint Stir of Madness, for example, struggles through a lugubrious piano and muddy gospel backing vocal. He attempts to beguile with imagery of smoke rising from weeping willow trees, as if the listener is supposed to be floored by an evident maturity – unlikely, when the reality is closer to 6th form poetry than genuine Dust Bowl penury.
The album’s final track is its highlight, with Foster in tender mood on Memory of Your Arms. Indeed, occasional slide guitar excepting, the entire studio seems to have moved from an abandoned gas station in Nebraska to the back room of a junk shop in his native London. A battered and clunky piano provides a charmingly woozy backdrop to Foster’s simple, yet affecting refrain of "there isn’t much more longin’ I can take". It’s beautiful, and so much more believable than his attempts to come across as the preaching troubadour of the American wilderness. Continue down this path, and Foster’s second album may yet be something special.