Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My Favorite Albums of 2014

Vanishing Act /
Edward O'Connell

I've been a fan of this guy's work ever since I happened across his 2010 album Our Little Secret. What a pleasure to find this new installment of his trademark wordsmithery and power-pop songcraft. Here's a taste:

I've always been a sucker for laid-back rock waltzes, a particularly apt choice for this regret-soaked song about a relationship that can't live up to its promise. O'Connell can work a metaphor like nobody's business, and he masterfully threads imagery of a magician act throughout -- the blindfold, the smoke and mirrors, a "trick to amaze and astound."  He wraps it all up in the chorus:

The years disappear
But is love hiding near
In a heart where it needs to be found
Let nobody see that we're bound
To burn the ropes, 
Break the chains and then kill the magician 
There's no point in wishing 
For a curtain to pull back 
If our love's a vanishing act.

Let's call the whole thing off, in other words, but he uses his own verbal prestidigitation to soften the blow. 

The thing is, it isn't just clever word play, it's intimately tied to hard-won wisdom about how love can slowly veer off the rails, racking up disappointment after disappointment, souring and curdling until there's nothing left. Yes, O'Connell's voice and singing style bear an eerie resemblance to Elvis Costello, and you know in my book that's a huge plus.  But whereas Costello's early deft word play was sometimes empty cleverness, O'Connell's always reflect some psychological acuity.  Music for Grown-Ups, to the nth degree.

Early Elvis was bitter and sometimes downright mean;  O'Connell instead has a gently weary persona of the sympathetic loser, the good guy who's been unlucky at love.  It's a bit of a magic trick to combine that wittiness with true-hearted yearning, but he masterfully pulls it off, track after track -- and it's immensely satisfying.  Engaging head and heart -- that's not so easy to do.  Kudos, Mr. O'C.

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