Owens’ bid for a place in the pantheon of gifted greats is on course.
Martin Aston 2013
The reason why Girls’ singer-songwriter Christopher Owens left the band’s co-founder, bassist/producer Chet "JR" White, in July of 2012 after just two albums (2009’s Album and 2011’s Father, Son, Holy Ghost) wasn’t initially clear. He now says the band’s high turnover of support members was too disruptive.
A better story, however, is if White had baulked over Owens’ idea to write an album based on a short-lived but intense affair with a French girl he met during the band’s first European tour. Concept record alert!
It’s probably more that Owens’ new-found freedom has allowed him to follow his muse, creatively and literally, from his San Francisco home to New York and the French Riviera, where love reigned before long-distance logistics broke them up.
Initially, it’s unclear if a concept record written in one “creative outpouring” is the best use of those gifts. Parts feel slight, more conventional and a bit samey – though that was Owens’ intention, “to make every song akin to the other, never leaving the key of A”.
Eventually, though, the pieces coalesce and themes return like long-lost friends as Owens steps from exquisite tune to exquisite arrangement, from the minstrelsy opener Lysandre’s Theme to the closing Part of Me (Lysandre’s Epilogue), which hails from the same breezy country as Glen Campbell’s Gentle on My Mind. And everything clocks in at a refreshingly succinct 29 minutes.
The instrumentation’s lighter swing is a viable alternative to Girls’ concessions to progressive rock’s nuanced twists and turns. Yet the dancing flute, happy-sad harmonica and succinct guitar breaks underpinning Here We Go and the route one beauty of A Broken Heart are the stuff from which dreams are woven.
Other highlights include the freewheeling saxophone dominating New York City, while Owens must be the only man to sing, “Don’t try and harsh my mellow, man” and not just get away with it, but get extra points for lyrical nerve.
It’s this ability to hold his ground that separates Owens from so many American peers, the ones that ride the prevailing wind of youth trends. The man’s bid for a place in the pantheon of gifted and fascinating greats is still on course.