I sometimes feel quite intrusive when I listen to The Mountain Goats, like I've walked in on a stranger bearing his soul. Chief Mountain Goat John Darnielle's early recordings, characterised by their no-fi recording using just a boombox, were impenetrable yet moving, but for the more recent work in recording studios, Darnielle has set no emotional limit. Thus, for last year's superb 'The Sunset Tree', he told harrowing tales about his abusive stepfather. But 'Get Lonely' is one step above still. Surely one of the loneliest albums ever recorded, it should come with a health warning: listening to it, alone, through headphones, may cause outbursts of uncontrollable crying in even the most stable listeners. Such is the power of these songs.
We are frequently bombarded with much-lusted-after pop stars claiming they're lonely, that their lovers have left them or they're sorry for lying. Bollocks. They can shag anyone at the click of their fingers. This is the real deal. Even if, like in a lot of his work, Darnielle is not singing about himself, his songwriting is truly affecting, focusing on the little things that make it just that little bit harder to cope. Like "the first time I made coffee for just myself" in 'Woke Up New, "I made too much of it, but I drank it all, just 'cos you hate it when I let things go to waste". 'Half Dead''s whimsical strums are juxtaposed with Darnielle's fine portrait of a day alone: the rain, the household chores and the constant thoughts are perfectly conveyed in his lyrics, even if the tune is the least inspiring here. And the title track is simply unbearable, its chorus of "I will get lonely and gasp for air/And send your name up from my lips like a signal flare" guarenteed to send shivers down the spine of everyone who hears it.
Being a folk album, you shouldn't expect too much musical experimentation, as most tracks appropriately consist of Darnielle alone with his guitar. But on some, less violently emotional tracks, The Mountain Goats are making a few sonic steps. 'If You See Light''s brass, coupled with Darnielle's nasal voice and the song's strange lyrics, resemble Neutral Milk Hotel, and 'New Monster Avenue' makes more good use of the Goat's only recently-used full-band setup. And Darnielle is as gifted at writing great tunes as he is lyrics, and with a few mid-album exceptions, you may find yourself humming any of these.
'Get Lonely' is a perfect antidote to the current wave of hideously saccharine singer-songwriters - behind the serene, pleasant music lies twelve anti-'You're Beautiful's - overtly sad but subtle and with that slight air of hope that Elliott Smith mastered. The last place this album belongs is by a coffee table. It's a testament to the true brilliance of The Mountain Goats to say that this achingly beautiful album isn't their best- for me, that honour belongs to 2002's incredible concept album 'Tallahassee'- but continues a good streak that has lasted for dozens of albums and EPs. Immerse yourself in this album, just make sure your life's relatively stable before you do so.