By now, most of Christopher Owen’s schtick is pretty well known (Children of God, Stanley Marsh, drugs, Girls, yadda yadda yadda) but what made the lattermost element so intriguing was that sense that we were being let in on Owens’ own fragile and exposed world. Songs like Hellhole Ratrace and Vomit could prove mawkish at times, but the honesty and vulnerability on show was both compelling and powerful, and eventually endearing. Having messed about with Hedi Slimane and disbanded Girls, Owens plates up his first solo outing with Lysandre – a vaguely proggy long-player filled with saccharine vignettes, tumbling flute lines, sax solos, and Morricone-inspired harmonica toots.
The choons are there sometimes (Here We Go starts off well, and Here We Go Again is great with its surfy lead guitar and ooh la la la’s, Owens imploring we don’t try and “harsh my mellow, man”) but the overall feeling of the album as a whole is a cloying one. For the most part, the ebullient happiness that pervades it seems somewhat forced, and how anyone can get away with writing lines like “kissin’ and a-huggin’ is the air that I breathe”, as Owens does on a title track that ambles unhurriedly to nowhere, without coming across as some sort of soppy care bear beats me.
Owens’ voice meanwhile, that once seemed to have a steely resoluteness to it sounds thoroughly feeble for much of the album, and the effete adoption of flutes and mediaeval instrumentation sounds more than slightly trite. For instance, the despondent underbelly described in New York City (sample line: “I remember begging my best friend for my life”) is entirely undermined by its chirpy saxophones whilst the they’re taking the hobbits to Camelot; they’re taking the hobbits to Isengard-esque leitmotif intrinsic to Lysandre’s Theme is just plain annoying.
Thus this incongruous mix of ’70s MOR and seemingly Circulus-inspired mediaeval flute-rock, with Owens taking up the mantle of spurned minstrel with glee, doesn’t really proffer anything to keep the listener coming back for more as it instead lacks the emotional depth of almost anything he’s done before. It’s all far too earnest for it to really work and the eclectic nature of the album (from cod reggae, to lounge, to schmaltzy introversion) is considerably more irritating than it is enticing. If this is Owens’ breakaway moment; his artistic emancipation then I’m glad he’s happy enough though personally, I want no part of this mediaeval voyage, my liege.
Released: January 14th, 2013 [Turnstile]