In a time long assigned to the past, but which was in reality the mid eighties, I was the owner of a demo tape by a local band called The Coincidence. It was played to death and eventually went to that unknown destination that tapes and albums seem to slip off to – the land of lost and sorely missed musical recordings. And that was the end of that, or so I thought.
It was thus, a particularly high point when I came into possession of an album called My Crucial Execution by David Marx. Marx was the front man and driving force behind the aforementioned band, and I was happy to find that this 13 track-recording contained many of the songs which graced that long lost tape; fresh versions breathing new life into what, in a fairer world, would be minor classics.
David Marx is basically a romantic, and that’s what comes through immediately in his song writing – well to me anyway. There seems to be some sort of view these days that male songwriters, wearing their hearts on their sleeves, is some sort of new movement; spearheaded by the likes of James Blunt and Damien Rice. This album shows that at least one singer has been doing this for years, and doing it more convincingly at that! When Blunt sings, it seems to put me in mind of slushy adolescent poetry; Marx however, is the real deal, and manages to present us with songs about every day concerns: relationships, love and loss, in a relatable and honest way.
Kicking off with a folk pop cross-over that wouldn’t be out of place on a Waterboys album, “Dublin” is one of those immediate and infectious songs, and probably the one that has stuck most firmly in my mind from all those years ago (when I was able to witness this song being played live). It is a great testament to the fact, that although heavily infused with Celtic influences, driving violin riffs and accompanying mandolins, folk music is not the domain of Arran sweater clad, bearded, finger in the ear singing, middle aged purists. And when combined with more contemporary pop-rock melodies, creates a wonderful new and fresh genre.
“The Breath of Objection” moves us more and more into that punchy pop domain that reminds me so much of Elvis Costello; and with even more background mandolin, remains pretty much a post punk acoustic ballad of the heart – both in musical style and lyrical content. It is with this song, that you first notice Marx’s lyrical ability, both in his use of words and with the honesty of his songs:
“Caught the sequence of emotion/Caught the pretence of a notion/Caught myself falling in love/Without having considered/The breath of objection.”
Leaving the jaunty poppiness behind, “I Still Believe You” shows a slower and more reflective side of the mans’ work. It may adopt a different pace to what we have heard so far, but it is no less impressive in its delivery. With a haunting and deliberate drive, said song is underpinned by weaving violin and delicate tear drop piano notes (courtesy of Nick Beere). And just when you think you have the measure of the song, an impressive saxophone solo falls in your lap, courtesy of none other that former Waterboy, Anthony Thistlethwaite – a man who has been a guest on Marx’s previous albums, but whom here, seems to be a fully-fledged part of the band for this recording.
One of the most interesting songs in my opinion comes next: a slow, mysterious wash of sound builds to be joined by a melancholy trumpet and a moody Mediterranean vibe, which grows to dominate the opening, until finally, everything kicks in (in riotous style). By the time Marx is telling us that “It Doesn’t Pay to Be Happy,” we are back into familiar territory – all the more glorious for the long and unexpected route that lead us into the song in the first place. A mix of possibly auto-biographical themes mixed with random streams of consciousness, make up the lyrical content, which is a duel between both sentiment and sound bite; thus showing the writer’s love of words for their own sake. Mariachi pop punk! Now there’s a section that you wont find in HMV, and more is the pity!
Then without a pause to get your breath, we are straight into “February,” a gloriously introspective laid back apology to a past relationship. The power of these songs, is that even though they seem extremely personal on one level, they manage to document the situations that we all find ourselves in. Change the names, and they become your own songs – and that’s probably what makes them so attractive on a lyrical level.
As if to support the other side of the balance, musically, “Valerie” has that addictive jaunt that gets inside you, right from first hearing. It’s a gentle, simple song, and it’s maybe that “less is more” attitude that makes it so wonderfully refreshing. No big anthemic solos, no clever breaks or intricate timings… just a simple song, full of emotion – with a simple tune and an infectious beat. An unexpected bouzouki solo from Kevin Wilkinson – normally found behind the drum kit – adds unexpected colour to the song; which at the end of the day, just goes to show that a good song is a good song. And often, its enough to leave it at that.
Having already shown that throwing a curve ball, keeps the album interesting, here it comes in the form of “Switchblade Jesus” – where a rock and roll opening beat/fused with sixties inflected guitar, build into a song that is at once, both very David Marx and also adventurously different from a lot of the songs it shares space with here! “Don’t Cry While I’m Gone” meanwhile, seems a very personal song; but even though there seems to be a sad tale being told here, Marx manages to do it in typically upbeat style.
It is this ability that enables him to create wonderfully upbeat and positive songs, even when dwelling on those subjects close to the heart. The next offering “Tiny Puddles” is a classic example of this: a crisp, bright, acoustic guitar drives the song, and whilst cellos and violins weave a dark and emotive backdrop, the rhythm and the delivery keep the song from descending into the dark places of the song writing soul!
The next two songs, like the opening number, take me straight back to those live shows of my youth. “Rudolf Valentino” is a typical upbeat number, with piano, sumptuous backing vocals and an occasional french cornet playing around the guitar work. But like most of the songs here, it’s the melodies and the vocals that make them so memorable. Sing-along choruses aligned with a vibrant energy that mainlines straight to the foot; such are the hallmarks of Marx’s songs.
It is however, “The Kiss,” that has become my firm favourite since being reacquainted with the album. Like the opening number, it manages to combine that element of infectious folk-riff (care of the violin), along with a driving pop-rock backbeat aligned with yet more saxophone… Once again, it’s the lyrics and the sing ability (is that a word? Oh well you know what I mean), that carry the song:
“Shakespeare’s words of emotion/Dance like Fred Astaire/Chasing such a commotion/From here, there, to everywhere/Passion faces illusion/Or could it be King Lear?”
You wouldn’t get that from Captain Blunt would you?
It’s a pity that the word Dance, when applied to musical genres, has been hijacked by cold commercial club sounds, created to the sound of the cash till-ring, rather than for any entertainment value – as this album is, by many definitions, dance music in all its glory.
The album rounds off on a couple of quieter moments. “You’re the One I Love” has a sultry mix of country rhythms and lounge jazz drums with an understated blues attitude; a simple heart warming tale, showing that you don’t have to be clever all the time (and simple sentiment is as powerful as any fancy wordplay). The last song ‘’Yellow Highrise,’’ has a stark and dark message, which is pretty much about the vocals, with little accompaniment to begin with. A brave and spacious approach, making the powerful meaning(s) more dominant – finally kicking in for a powerful play out of unresolved questions.
In the introduction to this review, I said in a fairer world these songs would be minor classics. That’s not true – there is nothing minor about this work at all. I guess there really is no justice in the world.