Lush, acoustic delicacy and smooth-as-silk harmonies – but where’s the anger?
Colin Irwin 2009
William Fitzsimmons sounds seriously in need of a hug. Raised by blind parents in a house full of instruments, the Illinois-based songwriter qualified as a mental therapist before self-releasing his home recordings. Chronicling the breakdown of his parents’ marriage, his second album, Goodnight, took such an emotional toll that it inadvertently led to his own divorce. With open-sore honesty, he now tries to make sense of it all on The Sparrow and the Crow, his first major release. And you thought Thom Yorke was anguished.
Opening with After Afterall, a reprise of the final track on Goodnight, the painful personal connection between the two albums and the two failed relationships leads to a whole world of regret, heartbreak and self-analysis. In essence, we have a couch-side view of a deeply intimate therapy session – yet, somehow it doesn’t feel toe-curlingly excruciating. Clinical, naval-gazing introspection this may be, but it comes with the warmth of a fireside storyteller.
Whereas fellow heart-worn folkie Bon Iver locked himself away in the wilderness to produce a stark, desolate account of his break-up woes, Fitzsimmons takes the gentler Damien Rice approach conjuring up rich, soothing lullabies bereft of howling angst. Such is the swaying grace of his music it has been used to soundtrack schmaltzy farewells in US television dramas Grey’s Anatomy and One Tree Hill. That natural cinematic elegance shines through on the swelling hush of piano ballad If You Would Come Back Home and the brittle fragility of the finger-picked Please Forgive Me, perfect for a forlorn Hollywood couple to run in slow motion through a rain-sodden night. Lush, acoustic delicacy and soft, smooth-as-silk harmonies continue to form wave, after wave of yearning, haunting soul-searching. But where’s the anger? Where’s the bitterness? Where’s the late-night rant?
There is none, and we’re left instead to wallow in the tender beauty of Even Now and the crushed defiance of They’ll Never Take the Good Years. No bad thing, but there’s a limit to the amount of tear-jerking remorse anyone can take – and Fitzsimmons pushes it.