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Mick Harvey - Sketches from the Book of the Dead

  by Lisa Torem

published: 25 / 5 / 2011

Mick Harvey - Sketches from the Book of the Dead
Label: Mute Records
Format: CD


Bleak and disturbing, yet often oddly compelling latest solo album from one-time Bads Seeds guitarist, Mick Harvey

Mick Harvey’s follow-up to 2007s ‘Two of Diamonds’ is ‘Sketches from the Book of The Dead.’ Though the singer/songwriter plays most of the instruments, great beauty is added via the talents of Rosie Westbrook on double bass and J.P. Shilo on accordion and violin; Xanthe Waite adds the random, lusty vocal timbre the 11-tracks often require. Harvey was a member of the group Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and has produced with PJ Harvey, with whom he will tour throughout the year. The new release is something you can either love or hate, depending on the state of your mood. If you’re already down, it will gnaw at your simmering feelings of doubt and define them; hopefully, then, you will come to terms with them through some sort of catharsis. But, if you’re in a sprightly mood, I would tread carefully. Case in point, the opener ‘October Boy’ alludes to being “drenched in flowers.” That’s just the beginning. This same seasonal lad soon ends up “drenched and tortured.” Harvey’s gothic voice continues to drench us; though it soon morphs into a wrenching whisper in the sinister ‘The Ballad of Jay Givens.’ “Cyprus trees among the guns,” he wails. You get it, by now. ‘Two Paintings’ is a slo-mo epiphany; a think-piece wrapped in incidental riffs. ‘Rhymeless’ has wings. Is it a sombre litany of nursery rhymes and the way they inspire melancholia, nostalgia or simply an expose of alienation? ‘Frankie T. and Frankie C.’ is another epic salvaged by the layering of welcomed voices. ‘To Each His Own’ is more palpable: “Some ink upon the blotter/And the letters fall down from it.’ It has a melody that snails down an imaginary stairway. If you’re somehow still light-hearted, turn on to ‘The Bells Never Rang’. “It was there that you finally dissolved into ether,” is how it concludes, and Harvey’s grave voice rattles you convincingly. The lone love song, ‘How Would I Love You?’ is the great equalizer where nature commingles with restless romance. Strangely, the last song, ‘Famous Last Words’ has got quite a beat – something not to be heard before, and, by this point, a welcoming breath of fresh air. That said, I enjoyed Mick Harvey’s dark epiphanies; the ever-present drone and often wistful observations. But, it’s not meant to be background music. I’m simply saying that before you engage your senses, be aware that it is not a mindless pop offering, nor a self-involved narrative. It is slices of life set to stories that will make you reflect and it deserves a number of plays. In fact, if you don’t give, ‘Sketches from the Book of the Dead,’ proper attention, you may miss the subtle points, and that would be a crying shame.

Track Listing:-
1 October Boy
2 The Ballad Of Jay Givens
3 Two Paintings
4 Rhymeless
5 Frankie T. & Frankie C.
6 A Place Called Passion
7 To Each His Own
8 The Bells Never Rang
9 That's All, Paul
10 How Would I Leave You?
11 Famous Last Words

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