Martin Rossiter The Defenestration of St. Martin Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

A high-quality, stripped-back solo debut from the Gene frontman.

David Quantick 2012

In the mid- to late-1990s, the UK rejected American grunge for a massive national chart wave of wry, guitary commercial indie music, that the press labelled Britpop for fun and profit.

In reality, Britpop was an imaginary triangle between the genuine success of Blur, Oasis and (to a slightly lesser extent) Pulp. Bands like Menswear, Echobelly and Elastica didn’t so much ride in their wake as float about before being picked off by the seagulls.  

But there were bands linked to Britpop who deserved more than a Union Jack lapel badge and a slap. One such were Gene, who mixed a Smithsian sensitivity with some surprisingly sharp guitar melodies. 

Led by guitarist Steve Mason and vocalist Martin Rossiter, Gene enjoyed a decent amount of success with singles like For the Dead and Olympian. But they faded away like many of their contemporaries at the end of the last millennium.

Rossiter has been sighted here and there over recent years, but it’s only this year that he has returned to the fuller gaze of the public with this remarkable solo album. The actual title of The Defenestration of St. Martin (“defenestration” being a compact way of saying “throwing someone out of the window”) is probably the wryest thing about this album, which strips away much of the humour that lined the best of Gene.

In fact, Rossiter has also decided to strip away most instrumentation, too. This album is striking in its use of just stark piano and Rossiter’s voice, which has developed into a mature but still dramatic thing, capable of conveying powerful emotion as well as sharp observation.

The album begins with the grimly redemptive Three Points on a Compass, in which Rossiter berates an absent father or stepfather for 10 minutes. It could be awkward, but it’s forceful and oddly concise. That song sets the template for the rest of the album, from shorter songs like Sing It Loud and My Heart’s Designed for Pumping Blood to the gorgeous Where There Are Pixels and the droller I Must Be Jesus.

Despite the spare instrumentation, there’s no sense of repetition or lack of variety, and these emotive, excellent songs stay with you. A late contender for album of the year.

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This album is reviewed on Jo Whiley's Radio 2 show on 3 December 2012

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