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This Unique Museum - Chapter One : A Catalogue of Madness and Melancholy

  by Paul Raven

published: 8 / 11 / 2007

This Unique Museum - Chapter One : A Catalogue of Madness and Melancholy
Label: Sky in the Sea
Format: CD


Uninspired ambient indie melancholia from This Unique Mueum, the project of singer-songwriter Ben Fitton

This Unique Museum is one man, Ben Fitton; a project of ambient indie melancholia based around haunting minimal piano lines and plaintive singing. According to the press release, the album is the first of a series in which new material is uploaded to the internet on a weekly basis, allowing visitors to the site to give feedback on the pieces as they are worked on. On that basis, we have to assume that most of This Unique Museum's visitors aren't greatly inspired by variety. The title might have been taken as a warning sign, I guess. Describing an album as a “catalogue of madness and melancholy” is a risky business – either you've got to completely dive into the theme, eviscerate yourself into the music and do the audio equivalent of painting with blood and tears, or you need to subvert the expectations that the title creates, and attack the notion of confessional songwriting with all the tools in the kit of postmodernism and irony. There is a third alternative, of course, but it's not the most effective one – you can just write some rather twee and mopey acoustic ballads and instrumentals and hope that sincerity will carry the day. Maybe I'm just too much of a cynic, but this third path – the one that This Unique Museum has followed – has been so well trodden over the years that an unavoidable rut has been carved out of the ground. It's hard to say exactly why I find this album so disappointing. Fitton has a fine ear for melody and pace, his lyrics have a ring of the genuine to them, and the production is competent and unobtrusive – but there's no synthesis, no spark, and (as mentioned before) no variety. Eleven slow-paced songs of gentle guitar arpeggios or sparse piano chording with Fitton's almost whispered whimsical delivery is just too much. In smaller quantities I think they'd stand up much better; it might have been a better course of action to have culled the track list down to the four best and gone with an EP format. But by the time you've heard the fourth track, 'Queen Eleanor Street', you've heard all there is to hear – and unless you're particularly enamoured of Fitton's voice, you'll find little reason to keep listening. I don't like giving albums by independent artists a kicking, and I'd like to reiterate the point that Fitton has obvious skill with instruments and words. But he needs to push his boundaries a bit, and really release the emotion behind those lyrics – for an album supposedly about madness and melancholy, there's a disappointing lack of either made manifest in the music itself. Some adventures into new and unknown territories, both emotional and musical, would really pay dividends. I'd like the next chapter of this series to really blow me away and strum my heartstrings – but it's going to take more than some sub-Coldplay miserablism to accomplish it.

Track Listing:-
1 Some Silence (On Vinyl)
2 The Green Grass (The Place You Grew Up)
3 The Optimist Of... (The Lost Highway)
4 Queen Eleanor Street (Built to Last)
5 The Architect Of... (The Ghost in the Machine)
6 Inside These Four Walls (The Blood in His Veins)
7 A Catalogue of Melancholy (In a Pickle)
8 This Fable (Through My Teeth)
9 A Product of the Past (The Boy Who Had No Name)
10 Wise Beyond Her Years (It's Gone Too Far)
11 Martha (The Sky Meets the Sea)

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