CD Review – Moment by Mark Chadwick
Written by Clay on July 25, 2014
Sometimes I listen to a new album and it sets me off on a train of thought, not about music but about politics and passion and the great givens of humanity. It doesn’t happen too often but when it does I end up wanting to write something that reads more like a history lecture than a CD review.
I’m listening to new work, a solo album, from Mark Chadwick, vocal lead and guitarist with The Levellers. The album is called Moment, and is the culmination of two years of fairly introspective song-writing and contemplation about the role that both alcohol and addiction play in our lives – and my train of thought is this:
There are several huge foundation stones on which our culture is built; one is certainly religion and belief; you cannot truly understand Shakespeare, Tolkien or Blake for example, if you don’t get the Christian references in their structure and language. Similarly you can’t study the glorious, kaleidoscopic paintings of Chagall if you are not prepared to learn something of Jewish thinking and folklore. I would say that beauty, attraction and romantic love form a second foundation stone (on which we can pile our greatest paintings, poetry and music); and desire for power and glory is a third (which holds up much of our beloved literature and plays). Holding all those stones in place is the very human ability to become obsessed, fascinated and totally dependent on something – addiction, in its very broadest terms. The only thing that has changed is our attitude. Today we put people into rehab, or send them to counsellors and generally view addiction as an illness, however the ancient Macedonians viewed regular drunkenness as essential to manliness, and to the medieval Christian mind it was the fault of demons or possession by ghosts.
Furthermore, drugs, alcohol and generally altered states of consciousness have been part of religious ritual since we first started to ask questions about the world. So can we really consider addiction as a human ‘fault’? There is drunkenness in the early texts of the Bible – the Jewess Judith overcomes her Assyrian oppressor by getting him drunk, apparently without incurring the wrath of God. I’m going to risk the wrath of the church-going righteous of Middle England and say that, to those of us who observe the world as humanists or atheists, religion and power look as much like addiction as alcohol or opium. Reliance on alcohol causes devastation to families and to individuals, all-consuming devotion to religion or desire to exercise power seems to be causing devastation across entire nations. With such a formidable persecutor as addiction, it seems both fitting and oddly healthy to choose it as a muse with whom to explore the world. And, standing firmly on those huge foundation stones, that is exactly what Mark Chadwick has done through his new album, Moment.
With an introduction like that, I’ve probably made Moment sound as if it will be both gloomy and daunting – in fact it is neither. The opening track, Waterfall, is a riot of fiddle-work spinning along behind a leaping melody. In the best traditions of The Levellers, this is a song about drinking and drunkenness, and it is as fast-paced and lively as the best craic at which you could find yourself. Mark Chadwick doesn’t ease you gently into his theme, he picks you up and flings you in, and expects you to dance. Following Waterfall is Redsky, a warm and gently-given piece of advice: the world is a puzzle that you will always have to face; if you accept that there will be no warning and no signposts you’ll get along better in this life.
Moment, the title track and Bullet both add an intense style of storytelling; they focus on the detail of just one moment’s decision or the instant captured in a photograph and examine it in close detail from several angles. The lyrics are so forthright and the perception of feeling is so vivid that these moments seem to be laid before you naked and unapologetic, not for you to judge, just for you to observe and accept that this world you live in is indeed a puzzling one.
As the album goes on, we seem to home in more and more closely on how humans behave in the grip of addiction, grief or in the darkest moments of the night. These are songs in which the lives of alcoholic neighbours are observed (Christian and Pam), we are invited to enjoy the strange sort of freedom you have in being always an outsider (Killing Time) and made uncomfortably aware that at their most intense, extremes of emotion seem to become detached and hover in front of you like a separate entity (Air). Finally the album slips quietly into the night, and turns its attention to the way that worries and tiny little memories are magnified by the darkness and come to dominate our thoughts (Last Night); it seems that night time too, even the cool reviving night, can be a kind of drug that alters our perception of the world.
In terms of sheer artistry, Mark Chadwick remains ahead of the game and has sensibly stayed well out of the way of the promoters who would buff him up and polish him until he and his work were unrecognisable. And that’s what makes this music important. This album manages to be both political and very personal, but above all it is scrupulously honest. If I were again a teenager trying to decide if music was important to the world, then this is the kind of work that would tip the balance and confirm my view that music is vital to life.
[Download the album here: http://www.markchadwick.org/music/]
When you have a good composition performed by accomplished musicians it renders the veneer of studio perfection both unnecessary and undesirable. What speaks to you in this album is an urgent and forthright voice that wants to talk of subjects from which many would prefer to turn their head away. Mark Chadwick is clearly an artist who operates only on his own terms; and one of those terms is to be honest and non-judgemental in the face of what our society thinks degrades us.
Whether we find it a comfortable thought or not, we human beings have always seen some value in altering our perception of the world – whether that is by creating stories to explain what we do not understand and becoming convinced of their reality, or whether it is by consuming chemicals that change the way the world looks to us and then being unable and unwilling to return and look at it once more as it really is. The human tendency towards addiction is nothing new, indeed it likely that it has been around as long as we have, and will seize a hold of a King as easily as it will grab a commoner. With unflinching directness, Moment encapsulates all of that and establishes Mark Chadwick as a musician capable of voicing an opinion without making a judgement, and of creating music that people will love, while remaining unconventional. Rare combinations indeed.
Link to lyrics, tour dates and background information here: http://www.markchadwick.org
The Beautiful Days festival is now sold out, but you can read catch up on news and photos here: http://www.beautifuldays.org/
Review by @autumnrosewell