A brilliantly bold, robust work, showcasing real development.
James Skinner 2010
2006’s The End of History established Fionn Regan as one of the finest singer-songwriters to emerge in recent years, splicing dextrously plucked acoustic guitars with literary allusions to captivating ends. A frank, genuinely heart-warming listen, Regan likened its gestation to “building an ocean liner with a butter knife,” a statement borne out by the intricate songcraft and sheer attention to detail throughout.
The Shadow of an Empire, however, is a gratifyingly different kind of record. Written while touring …History, Regan casts his net wider and with more confidence here: stepping up the tempo, reaching for the electric guitar and contemplating the world surrounding him as darkness tangibly sets in. If song titles like Genocide Matinee, Catacombs and Violent Demeanour weren’t sufficiently portentous, the central refrain of the latter leaves little doubt as to where Regan’s coming from: his “empire” broadly symbolising institutional oppression and its myriad repercussions. Even when traces of that old warmth creep back into the fold – and they do so far more than a cursory listen might suggest – an element of threat and uncertainty is ubiquitous, culminating on the ranging, piano-led title track that closes proceedings like some dashed cousin of The Times They Are a-Changin’.
Antecedents such as Dylan remain, though never quite impinge. Violent Demeanour revolves around a skeletal guitar figure strongly reminiscent of Leonard Cohen’s finest, and House Detective plays out like some kind of Subterranean Folsom Prison Blues – veering dangerously close to pastiche, Regan comes out swinging purely by dint of his charismatic wordplay. Protection Racket, meanwhile, feels closer in spirit to punk or early rock‘n’roll, his delivery twisting and straining accordingly.
Murky its backdrop may be, but instances of limpid beauty and reflection nevertheless abound in The Shadow of an Empire. As far as second albums go, it is a brilliantly bold, robust work, showcasing real development and the kind of graceful erudition that places Regan squarely ahead of the curve.