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REVIEW: Steven Page – Heal Thyself Pt 1: Instinct

After four years in the making, Steven Page’s new album Heal Thyself Pt. 1 – Instinct is set to be unleashed, and it boasts a collection of thoughtful and intricate pop-rock gems that surely already cement this as one of the albums of 2016.

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Simply put, if you liked 2010’s Page One, you’ll love Heal Thyself: Page is bolder and slicker than ever, returning with a batch of songs that easily stack up as some of the best of his career. Expected to be part of a two-disc series, with another dozen tracks up his sleeve for a proposed future Pt II, fans will revel in the trademark Page stylistic diversity and cutting lyricism on offer throughout Heal Thyself.

Teaming up with Craig Northey (of power-pop stalwarts The Odds) to write and produce the album, Page reels in help from Northey’s Odds bandmates on all but two tracks. Sprinkling the collection with strings, horns and backing vocals are ‘The Original Six’ (Bryden, Jay and Jesse Baird, Kevin Fox and Karen Graves) who comprise the singer’s full touring band. Page’s kids make impressive cameos throughout, too, with Isaac in particular contributing viola skills.

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Heal Thyself kicks off in intriguing fashion, with “There’s a Melody” tip-toeing into a fun, one-line ditty explaining the frustrating process of relaying a tune from mind to fruition on tape.

After this introductory piece – which is stylistically more akin to Page’s work with the Art of Time Ensemble – the album kicks into more trademark territory with “The Work At Hand“, a new-wave influenced number best enjoyed on headphones thanks to some stellar stereo guitar interplay. Proclaiming “I was born under a neon sign, and I don’t give a fuck”, a tendency for more risqué lyricism is continued in third track “Here’s What It Takes“, which contains the line “An eight-ball of coke, you’re angry and broke”.

Page’s presser for the album remarks that constant finger-pointing in mainstream and social media has led us to forget that answers often lie within ourselves; this theme is already starkly apparent from the opening three tracks. Thought-provoking couplets such as “What we once kept hidden from our parents / Now we keep it hidden from our kids // No second chances ever in this life / Just another chance to make the same mistake twice” remind listeners of Page’s superb ability to craft and hone a cyclical narrative; in this case an exploration of adventures in being a child, a parent and, in his own words, a ‘basket-case’. It is as sentient as it is brutal.

I Can See My House From Here“, debuted live last year, sees a man “self-satisfied but also easily bruised” living an apparent martyr-complex. Again self-questioning from a personal perspective but also in a wider societal and religious context, levity is injected with a couple of cheeky pop-culture references: “I’m done with raising the Dead / I’d rather tour with them instead / I waited too long for my wish / Jesus Christ I’d settle for Phish”. The good news, though, is that there’s apparently a new king of the Jews…

Already familiar to fans thanks to a 2012 teaser release, “Manchild” sounds better than ever with a re-polished mix and the injection of some horns.

The hardest word in the English language – the humble apology – is explored in “If That’s Your Way“, rebuking the suggestion that, despite best intentions, one can never go to bed on an argument. Lines such as “Silence, followed by a deeper silence, then to bed / Morning, it’s an ordinary day as though nothing had happened or been said” hang over a trudging, layered melody with a poised string arrangement. Sorry is indeed the hardest word, but as Page explains, “If that’s your way of saying you’re sorry – I don’t mind”.

Sparking back into life, “Mama” is an immediately-likeable earworm, complete with lively horns, cowbell, and the most infectious chorus of this collection. An inventive rhythm and feel-good melody intertwines with a socio-political narrative on the erosion of faith in the arts. Despite its radio-friendly gloss earmarking “Mama” as a potential single (at least aesthetically), the irony of this song penetrating mass media would not be lost on Page’s followers.

Never erring too far from pathos, in “Surprise Surprise“, Page delivers his most instantly-recognisable signature sound on Heal Thyself; likely the reason for its selection as lead single. Themes of anxiety, depression and an exploration of emotional wellbeing have long been associated with Page’s work, and his self-deprecating tone is a familiar undercurrent. “Surprise Surprise” was already a dynamic track, but like “A New Shore” from Page One, it launches into a Beatles-esque outro; a welcome addition. As the first public demonstration of the album’s assets, it deserves to catapult Heal Thyself into the arms of new listeners aplenty as well as avid followers from a 25+ year career.

Hole In The Moonlight“, a delicate, piano-led bluesy number with backing vocals reminiscent of earlier BNL work, is followed by a nice surprise: a reinvented, studio version of “Linda Ronstadt In The 70s” – originally posted acoustically on Youtube back in 2009 as a response to a call-out from Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. Carrying a retro feel, killer chord progressions and some castanets, “Linda” has been well-refined and again wears a Beatles influence proudly on its sleeve.

Picking up where the album opener left off, “There’s a Melody II” grows into a fuller, more intense reprise of the prologue. Featuring lush, grandeur instrumentalism and an escalation of positive vigour – “Give it some time, just let it go, just close your eyes and soon you will know” – “Melody” crescendos to a jubilant climax. This may have been a strong choice as an album closer, with a sense of having come full-circle by the time the track reaches its celebratory finalé.

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However, in “No Song Left To Save Me“, Page has rounded off the album in stunning style; this track is one of his best efforts to date. After a spirited intro channeling Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman”-cum-Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up”, Page launches into a soaring chorus, belting to showcase his powerful voice which remains as rich as ever.

If the purportedly upcoming Heal Thyself Pt II can pick up where Instinct left off, particularly with the rip-roaring “No Song Left To Save Me”, fans will be chomping at the bit to hear more from the disctinctive tenor in the next installment.

Heal Thyself Pt 1 – Instinct is a glorious triumph; a snarky yet upbeat, self-reflective yet socially aware collection of finely crafted power-pop songs that attest to Page’s versatility and craftsmanship in songwriting. But after all this time, that’s no surprise, surprise.

Written by @liammckinnon // Follow @stevenpagefans on Twitter // Follow @stevenpage on Twitter

Heal Thyself Pt 1 – Instinct drops March 11th and is available from stevenpage.com as well as all usual retailers.

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