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Alex Highton - Nobody Knows Anything

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 18 / 1 / 2015

Alex Highton - Nobody Knows Anything
Label: Gare du Nord Records
Format: CD


Excellent folk/pop on second solo album from recently rediscovered Cambridgeshire-based singer-songwriter, Alex Highton

We're all familiar with the cliché that good songwriting only comes from people with messed up lives. Alex Highton has plenty of that material to fall back. His first band (Mohanski)'s only album flopped, and Highton's life gradually went off the rails. Experiencing poor mental health, Highton found that picking up his guitar and writing songs helped calm him down. But, though he did post a few demos onto MySpace, Highton assumed that his rock-star days were behind him. By 2011, he was married with children, and decided to move out of London to Woodditton, a village in rural Cambridgeshire. By this time, Highton's demos had found a small, but fairly enthusiastic, online following and, armed with a new set of songs telling the story of his move to the countryside, Highton crowd-funded the recording of 'Woodditton Wives Club'. Where an inglorious parade of complacent rock stars have lost their edge in their comfortable middle age, Highton's decision to settle down has brought out the best in him. Highton “knows he deserves little pity for leading a wonderful life with his family... it's just that it's taken a rather circuitous route to get there,” as it says on the blurb for his second album, 'Nobody Knows Anything'. Having mined the material offered to him by rural life fairly extensively for his debut, Highton's observational eyes rove slightly wider on this follow-up. The loose theme for the album is that these are the thoughts that run through a person's head immediately before they die. Indeed, the uncharacteristically bouncy 'Fear' quotes the Humanist Society's bus adverts, “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The very worst words we hear are “Faith was all that you had/Now it seems to all intents and purposes it's gone”, which sets the tone for a questioning and occasionally cynical look at modern life. If that sounds a bit bleak, you needn't worry. Highton has expanded his palate beyond fingerpicked folk, so we get the McCartney-ish shuffle of opening track 'You Don't Own This Life' followed by 'It Falls Together', which might have fallen off the end of an early Elton John album and then the thudding synths and fluid electric guitars of 'Fluid'. Like 'Woodditton Wives Club', this was recorded in Highton's modest home studio with double-bassist Johnny Bridgwood (once in Morrissey's band) and drummer Howard Monk (once of the Clientele). But, this time, Highton is also joined by a cast of interesting collaborators. Songwriter John Howard, who recently covered one of Highton's songs on an EP, sent in some piano from his home in Spain, while a number of string parts were recorded in the US. Labelmates Robert Rotifer and Ian Button also lent their hands, and – as Highton explains - “even the dentist from next door is on it. He's playing a bit of sax.” Highton's loose songwriting style creates the impression that he is plucking old tunes out of his memory bank. It is that style, as much as Livepudlian accent, that reminds me of Shack's Michael Head. There is plenty of space given to his many collaborators – and on your first few listens, it is the bursts of strings and horns that stand out. Gradually, the songs themselves begin to seep in. It's never fully pop, never fully folk. There are synth-pop ditties and then moments of darkness that make you want to put some Leonard Cohen on to lighten the mood. But it all hangs together, and is the kind of album that reveals more of itself the more you listen to it. An artist who had already surpassed many people's expectations surpasses them again.

Track Listing:-
1 You Don't Own This Life
2 It Falls Together
3 Panic
4 Sunlight Burns Your Skin
5 She Had This Sister
6 Kills
7 The Evil That Men Do
8 Fear
9 I Only Asked You to Try
10 Somebody Must Know Something
11 Nobody Knows Anything
12 Mephisto
13 It's

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