on 24 July 2007
Martin Grech has very quietly released a third album. I consider myself quite the fan and it sure took me by surprise. One day I was enjoying the magnitude of Unholy for what must have been the eightieth time and I decided to check Amazon, you know, to see how the album had been received by others. Now, you can imagine how I felt when I then stumbled across March Of The Lonely. A surge of excitement was very quickly usurped by a sense of shame. Why was I unaware of this? Who do I think I am? etc. Guess I should have joined some form of online community. It's clear that here we have an artist who'll always release things under the radar of polite society, steadily building up a devoted and, at times, ravenous fanbase and yet never rising to the levels of commercial success of say, Springsteen, instead existing on the outside of the whole music scene, completely isolated from and independent of all notions of cool and infinitely more vital than a lot else out there as a result.
As a singer-songwriter, Grech is instantly vitruous by way of the fact that his name is not James. Don't get me wrong, songwriters do exist with said name boasting genuine talent, but looking at the insipid triangle of peril inhabited by Cullum, Blunt and Morrison, it is easy to conclude that there is something in that name which makes for the most moribund and irrelevant of music. Grech, on the other hand, like absolutely any other singer-songwriter of note that anybody could care to mention (Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, John Cale, Kate Bush, Robert Wyatt, Nick Cave, John Martyn) manages to create a world sonically and lyrically which, though harbouring some small traces of reality, is unquestionably his own, and I like it! It's a world which, should one choose to immerse onself within, one does not really feel like leaving, to the effect that once the album's drawn to a close, one has no choice but to play it again or...go outside and gaze at the starry night sky, or something. Or is that just me? I certainly don't think so. We have something TRULY special here, an album so deep and personal that just listening to it really does feel like an intrusion upon another world, a songwriter so inspired that the only contemporary I could care to mention at this given moment in time is Patrick Wolf, equally adept at seductive evocation that's perfect for escapist bliss.
Well, just in case there are any established Grecheads out there who haven't yet sampled the delights of March of the Lonely...it doesn't sound like Unholy. Or Open Heart Zoo. And yet, it's unmistakedly Grech. Albeit a HIGHLY stripped down Grech. There are no insane Chromosone/Dali freak-outs here. Instead, you get an album full of the introspective calm hinted at with songs like Venus, Lint and Catch Up. Songs are either folkish or countrified in their sound, think an acoustic version of Push or Notorious for the scope here, or more hymnal and, at times, even madrigal in their nature, such as the stunningly stark Heiress, in which Grech plucks the most minimal of notes on a quiet acoustic guitar whilst his voice soars, the power of an entire choir in one. Whilst OHZ (for me) evoked images of hospitals and airports and Unholy cathedrals and graveyards, the mindscapes evoked by March of the Lonely tend to be bleak and expansive in nature. Think of the hills of Devon in the early-morning blue-light of winter, or any stretch of the British coast at a particularly bleak dust. Indeed, Grech at one point even points out how the boats seem to be lying down as if tired: This is truly an album for those hours when the light is either fading or refusing to rise. An album to which bare branches can cast themselves against a grey and gloomy sky.
It must be listened to in one sitting, as a single piece. However, were I forced to pick out a favourite track, without hesitation I'd opt for The Giving Hands. I simply cannot put into words the acute beauty of that song. Also, the closing title track. It's like an ambient funeral march. It should be placed alongside Sigur Ros's Heysatan and Death Cab For Cutie's Stable Song as a truly devastating closer, like an aural punch in the gut.
Taken by surprise by a Martin Grech release? I won't let that happen again. He now appears to have his own record label, which means that we shouldn't have to wait too long for his next release. Obviously, that is a very good thing indeed. I can only imagine where he'll go next. Personally, I'm hoping for an album full of the quasi-ambient piano-driven pieces at which he's so adept.