Originally published in NME 12th April 2011
Bill Callahan has, over fourteen albums – whether under his nom de gloom, Smog or, as on his most recent three, his own name – always swatted away personal interpretations of his often desperately bleak, magnetic songs like some pesky fly. Yet that torrid bond of trust between the listener and a songwriter who, over the past two decades, has continually put words to those formless doubts and dreams, remains. On ‘Jim Cain’ from last album, ‘Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle’, he sang, “I used to be darker, then I got lighter, then I got dark again.” That lighter shading continues here, losing the strings that plumped up ‘…Eagle’ to organically lock in and out of grooves that dilute from bleak to pleasantly beatific over the course of the record. It starts on a futile note – ‘Drover’ full of brontide clatter and pedal steel moans, followed by ‘Baby’s Breath’, a tale of hastily blooming marriage that wilts like its titular weed, capped by the tragic realization, “how could I run without becoming me?”
Aside from goofy paean, ‘America’ – where the notoriously stoic Callahan is made homesick by watching “David Letterman in Australia” – this heartbreaking self-indictment glowers through ‘Apocalypse’ like shame through a sanguine thought, even on its lighter moments. ‘Riding For The Feeling’ feels funereal, placing Callahan in front of an audience that he craves will ask him, “’who do you think you are?’ So I could tell them,” as if delivering his own eulogy. He even kills himself off at the end of each side of the record – sinking his own sailboat with a burning rescue flare on the tense ‘Universal Applicant’, and riding “out with the skeleton crew” on closer ‘One Fine Morning’, breezy with reverent piano and acceptance. His closing words are the record’s catalogue number – DC450 – repeated like the credits of a film, the final caveat that insists that this is but fiction. It’s testament to Callahan’s enduring skill that whoever’s story he’s telling, it still feels as though he’s written it for you.