Music may be the greatest conveyor of human emotion, and with this in your brain, take Jonathan Markwood’s latest solo album, ‘Welcome To Planet Earth’. If you’ve heard his previous work under the Hoo-Hah Conspiracy umbrella then you’ve no doubt followed his musical journey, and what you’ll realise is this album cuts closer to the bone than any other. The first track on the album, Live Until You Die opens with hovering synth before the bass stalks to the first lines. “Robert Divine when out of his mind, the holes closed in behind him”. Markwood begins with characteristic narrative style, while at the same time signalling a new direction to his work. “Take my advice, You want to keep your soul alive, Don’t think twice, You better learn to live until you die”.
Forty Five combines down to earth reasoning on the realities of life with dark humour. “I’m just a normal man, I have a family, I have a bank account. I looked you up, I know where you live, And when you least expect, You’ll get back what you give”. The pop-funk guitar riff and thumping beat drive this song all the way to an Alto Reed-esque saxophone break. The final lyrics, “Hand me my forty five” perfectly convey the juxtaposition of comic and sinister.
Superman is honest, unpretentious and bloody catchy. It turns up the volume on the overall theme of life taking a positive turn. The lyrics, “I was so stranded and so lonely, With only the loneliest plan” have a universal quality topped off with a deeply personal spin. “Then along came you to me, I need to learn how to be a good man”. It is a beautiful and bouncy celebration of bringing new life into the world. When I heard this for the first time I was reminded of Johnny Depp’s meditations on fatherhood. “It’s all about perspective. When your baby comes along you go: “Oh, that’s what it’s all about.” This track made me want to jump for joy.
Strange Things filters the past through the knowing mind of the present. In vocal style it references David Bowie and Peter Gabriel, and musically it resembles a montage through a smoke filled London club where people try to cure ennui with pills. The guitar riff and subtle variation on a disco beat make for an unsettling and original track. This is balanced by Markwood’s natural ability to see pain through a humorous lens. “Everybody needs someone to need them, My analyst and me didn’t hit it off”.
The central track of the album, Welcome To Planet Earth (Beautiful Girl) is further testament to Markwood’s musical and lyrical talent. It is free of complication, and if I am wrong shoot me, but I believe it is a love letter to his newborn daughter.
An Unfortunate Display of Emotion is one of my favourite tracks on the album. It cleverly combines an infectious, John Deacon-esque bass line in the verse with a chorus that shifts into gorgeous funk rhythm guitar and rich vocals. This track is yet another example of Jonathan’s gift for changing style, but because of his craftsmanship, this goes seemingly unnoticed.
His chameleon talent is on display again in Mary Shelley, where the acoustic guitar and natural drum sound underpin Markwood’s vision of the world. “Mary Shelley has deserted me, She created me, She must have hated me”. This powerful chorus points to the romantic and gothic sides of Markwood’s multifaceted personality.
Fast Car is brave and brazen with a chorus that I don’t want to get out of my head. This is mainly down to the use of falsetto that Markwood did not explore enough in previous albums. The trombone melody at the end reminded me of many a brilliant musical arrangement from ‘Trombone Shorty’. There was also a fantastic little drum break mixed in with the chorus approximately three minutes in that I loved, so this gets its own mention.
The final song on the album, What Flows Through Blood glues the overriding theme of the record together. “The road is glass, Our body’s sand, We’re carriers across this land”. These lyrics are suffused with the realisation that our time here is fleeting. But I do not feel sad, because the mood of this track is hopeful. The chorus lays life’s true priorities bare for the listener. “What flows through blood is all of your love and mine”. This is not simply a universal striving after the tangible, but Markwood’s view of what matters in life.
This album is Jonathan Markwood’s most moving material to date. I have listened thoroughly to the two previous albums, ‘Tips & Tricks for the Modern Age’, and ‘No Light After Dark’, and I feel like I’ve witnessed the narrative arc in his life and music. It is difficult to truly compare his albums to anything I’ve previously heard, because, like all of his songs, they are uniquely his.
Welcome back to music Jonathan, it’s been too long: http://www.jonathanmarkwood.com
Words by Phillip Cogger