Highlights: Old Man Hands, I Know I Fucked Up, You Can’t Tell Her Anything, My Bedroom, I Want To Be A Volunteer
After taking this thing in over three straight evenings, I’m afraid I have to say this: Darren Hayman, as a songwriter, just doesn’t have ‘it’. His songs are uniformly lovely, charming and have good, articulate melodies, but way too often they seem totally devoid of a killer hook or one truly ecstatic moment. That said, January Songs (self-released by Hayman in the January of 2011) is still a delightful little achievement.
January Songs is a concept album akin to The Magnetic Fields’ classic 69 Love Songs. It is made up of 31 songs (and proper songs, too – bar one jazzy spoken word piece), each representing one day of the month in question. Well, the concept pretty much ends there. Forget about it and get straight to the point: the songs. None of Stephin Merritt’s half-baked tomfoolery (which I actually love): like I say, proper songs. January Songs is a fairly diverse collection, but you won’t notice that. An occasional reggae-ish rhythm or a Bo Diddley beat won’t distract you from the fact that what we have here are 31 exponents of largely very British songwriting imbued with it all: Britpop, Belle & Sebastian, Pete Astor (who is one of the numerous guests on this album)… The whole thing rolls on nicely, and deep inside this record’s charming, seemingly endless and moderately catchy pop rock haze you start picking out tunes that speak to you. The brittle, slow burning ballad “I Want To Be A Volunteer” might be my favourite – but for no particular reason.
In the end, January Songs is some musical journey. Long and slightly monotonous, but too cozy, pleasant and consistent to truly exhaust you. Well worth taking, then. However, I’d argue that Hayman’s Essex Arms from 2011 was a stronger set. Plus, the running time so treacherously discloses a lack of charisma – that is a lot more important than consistency.