I’m not for a moment suggesting that John Andrew Fredrick is set in his ways but even he would be the first to admit that after fifteen albums he has a certain musical signature. How could he not, all artists have one. It’s the sound of the artist’s personality coded into their songs, their subconscious essence binding with the DNA of their music so much so that the two become, to a degree, synonymous. And, knowing this, it is exactly why the illustrious Mr F. made a conscious effort to record an album of music which deliberately moved away from the path so deftly travelled so far.
A dance record with minimal drum beat drive? Syd Barrett fronting New Order? A move away from the unexpected commercial viability of previous album The Gospel According to John and a return to more obscure or at least less obvious roots? It runs with all of these pre-planned considerations but like any good album, and this is indeed a great album, it is more than the sum of the predicted parts. And whilst it certainly has a bounce and buoyancy at times, as always, things are not quite that simple.
There are a number of central themes to these intricate pop songs, magic for one, but not magic as some mysterious otherworldly power but more magic as an ingredient to a happy life, the glue that makes relationships work, the magic of the unplanned, the mystical energy that makes things complete.
Some songs live up to the dance vibe that is cast loosely over the record, Georgette, Georgette being a groovesome beast, 80’s vibe post-punk/new pop but given the passage of time feeling totally at the edge of a whole new wave of musical reinvention as well-rendered pop once more takes on the fickle fad and fashion of the status quo. From Hampstead Heath is a dreamscape of delicate and resonant picked guitars and Graymalkin Comes picks up on the early Syd qualities as intended.
Talk has surrounded the question of where next for John Andrew Fredrick as he has occasionally hinted at a move away from the music making side of his creative life. On the strength of Witches! it is obvious that he would be sorely missed. That blend of the obscure and the accessible. The intricate and the melodic. The direct and the textured. The cool and the cultish. The backward-glancing and the forward-thinking. All of those mutually exclusive ideas and dozens more beside inhabit his songs in a way that is rarely seen and I for one am not ready to see such wonderfully mercurial oxymorons slip into the back catalogue of musical history just yet.