Sound and Fury, by Sturgill Simpson
Suggested by Stuart Taylor
I don’t listen to the radio.
I never really have, to be honest. Most people my age have fond memories of the medium from their youth, recording the Top 40 Chart Show onto a C90 cassette on a Sunday night with their friends, wildly stabbing at the Stop button whenever a wittering DJ overtalked the final seconds of your favourite song.
For the Millennials out there, a C90 cassette is a CD made from Lego and ribbon. For the Gen Z’s, a CD is a 3D printed circular Spotify playlist.
I always found the concept of Radio alien to me. Why would I want to listen to music I haven’t chosen myself? That’s a ridiculous notion!
I find most DJ chatter banal, and commercial (or American) radio, with its endless repeated advertisements, really grinds my gears. I even get irritated by the volume of stations on offer, and hate the static hum that hisses out when changing channels before the advent of the digital version.
One of the conceits of Sound and Fury, Sturgil Simpsons rocking take on a psychedelic country sound, is that the tracks are on a number of metaphorical radio stations, and each ends abruptly with a static burst as the Everyman Listener spins the dial. It’s contrived, and badly implemented, and it cuts off songs before their time. I absolutely hate it.
Musically, there are some brave choices here, and Sturgill almost pulls them off with aplomb. This is an outlaw country record, full of rock bravado and growling guitar effects. Overlaying this is a spacious synth sound that should feel at odds with the simple Western trappings, but it adds a fantastic sense of the Otherworld, hallucinatory and mind-expanding while still retaining the home-on-the-range sensibility. Personally, I’ve christened this style as Space Cowboy, but there are other monikers out there. For example, I believe some people call it Maurice.
*mike drop, Vince McMahon strut out the room*
My favourite track is either the light and airy Make Art Not Friends, although the more driven Best Clockmaker on Mars runs it a close second. I’d also give praise to the final track Fastest Horse in Town, which has a more traditional country feel, albeit a dirty one. Sadly, it’s a touch overlong.
Sturgill Simpson is an artist who’s not afraid to try new things and go where his be-chapped muse directs. This daring approach is to be appreciated, but I think that, in practice, the creativity on show is let down a touch by his vocal style and range. While the music often takes a creative leap to the stars, the vocal is invariably Country-Boy-Yee-Hah through and through in metre, tone and melody. You could say this wisely grounds the songs and adds cohesion. I say it limits the places we could go.
Sound and Fury is an exciting but flawed album, bravely opening new territories without fully committing to the promised innovation. I’ve vacillated on the score and have settled at 7/10. If it came on my radio, I wouldn’t change the channel.