I’ve never had a harder time picking one song from an album to write about than I have with the first solo record from Glen Hansard, released today. Hansard, who is not a law journal (bad university joke) but actually one of the most accomplished musicians of his generation, is not nearly as well-known as he should be. It’s strange, because he’s had all the tools for publicity basically gifted to him across his long and vibrant career. He first came to my attention with the absolute stunner of a film, Once, in which he plays a busker who meets a foreigner and falls in love through the creation of music. Already an established force on his home continent with his band The Frames, Hansard was revealed to a much wider audience as a man whose face could embody a thousand expressions and whose incredible voice could unleash a few thousand more. His on-screen flame became his off-screen love, as he and Marketa Irglova became The Swell Season, collaborating for two exceptional albums and serious critical acclaim before parting ways both emotionally and professionally. Thus we have Rhythm & Repose, billed as ‘twenty years in the making’ like the guy hasn’t been doing anything else with his time, which is kind of unfair. But in the interest of wider appreciation, I’ll happily overlook the verbal histrionics today.
While Irglova, who I’m sure is a brilliant composer in her own right, worked well as a foil to Glen’s fiery wailing, I never really felt like anything the guy ever did was a true collaboration. In every example, you could take the other half or three-quarters out of the picture and the song would still work, but if you removed Hansard, it just wasn’t remarkable. Perhaps even without trying, he is the centre of everything he writes, which makes an entire solo record from the man a bit of a relief, really. It means that your ears don’t have to adjust themselves to the point when he’s not around, because he always is. And he’s also got twelve songs with which to explore all the styles he loves, only to prove that for a windswept old Irish guy, he has seriously good taste. ‘Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting’ is my pick only because it’s so far from the aching, acoustic-folk frenzy of his previous work that current fans will do a bit of a double-take before they realise who they’re listening to. With the same kind of simmering, Northern-soul instrumentation that you’d expect to find on an early Van Morrison record, which makes sense given they’re from the same country, this track manages to create an absolute feel-good vibe without relying on anything other than a simple groove and an honest melody. I believe at one point that was called ‘songwriting.’
More and more, I’m finding ‘marathon musicians’ – as I term them – like Hansard fascinating. In today’s climate, what can possibly compel them to keep at it when there’s so many younger, more hungry kids out there going for exactly the same thing? Listening to this tune really settles that for me; you can actually tangibly feel how much fun Hansard and his new band, which includes Bruce Springsteen’s touring horn section and other session players like Nico Muhly, are having. And while he’s certainly not the freshest face on the scene, Hansard is perhaps one of the most tried and tested. The closely tracked harmonies of the chorus, the way he can adjust the tone of his melody in only a few split seconds, and that wonderful, undeniable warmth is something you’re not going to get from a 22 year old. The cover of this album (see above) is a portrait painted of Hansard for the BP National Portrait Award, which I was lucky enough to view in situ when I visited the National Portait Gallery in London last year. Like his music, it’s a swirling mess of colour, darkness, pleasure and pain. Even if it wasn’t really twenty years in the making, losing yourself in Hansard’s rich musical tapestries does feel like being caught up in the history-arcing swirls of a painter’s brush. It’s a rare thing to be able to produce such high quality so far into one’s career. Let’s all take a minute to embrace Glen Hansard. He looks like he needs it.
Glen Hansard – ‘Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting’ [Premiere]