It’s always great watching acts grow to fulfil their full potential. It’s one thing to have good songs, and Ben Sydes has never had a shortage in that department, but it is tough to deliver the song that is in your head when you are racing around the country in a solo, plug in and play fashion, sofa surfing and working on the smallest of budgets. And great as his shows have always been, you could never stop wondering at what would happen when the time and money was available to properly explore those song’s full potential. Self-Sabotage means that we don’t have to wonder any longer.
I probably won’t be alone in that I hopped straight to live favourite This Was My City Once, the song which, for me at least, sums Ben’s music up and which here is everything I hoped it would be. Pitched somewhere between anthemic pop and nostalgic folk it has been dressed up in the perfect musical trappings. Emotive violin lines and sweet harmony vocals add just the right colour to this reflective track. There is a joke that in almost every bar in the world you will find a Scotsman singing….about going home. You can almost say the same about grassroots acoustic guitar slingers…as soon as they get outside their own post code they want to sing you a song about missing their home! But jokes aside, its a song that everyone can relate to. And if you can’t then you need to travel more.
The clever thing about what Ben has done here is that with all the possibilities that the studio allows, he hasn’t allowed himself to get too carried away with how the songs have been embellished. After all there is no point sonically warping them out of all proportion when you are going to have to, for now at least, pedal the one-man acoustic version to those who bought the record. It’s about capturing the spirit of the songs and that is what, despite the self-deprecating title, Self-Sabotage is all about.
There is room to rock out as happens on Propaganda, and Epiphanies is a a bit of a beast but to balance things songs such as Safe and Sound retains its deft bar-room busking, grace and intimacy with just a few sonic punctuation points and musical colour to help it along. Good Times turns the perfect pub sing-along into a festival anthem and All at Sea is a slightly brooding and wonderfully wistful, heartfelt gem.
Ben has walked a fine line here, one between the troubadourism (that’s a real word) of his live show and exploring the songs greater potential. And it’s a path he negotiates in very sure-footed fashion. Even if money and logistics mean that Ben is likely to be a one man band for a while to come yet, we know that when the day comes that a full band line up is on the cards, its going to sound nothing short of, to use one of his favourite words, amazing!