Highlights: Maria, Never Run, Miss September, Watching Over You
I remember this school essay I had to write when I was fourteen. Or rather – I don’t remember the essay itself, I remember what happened afterwards. A young teacher, all enthusiasm and no sense of humour, asked me to stay after class for a talk. Needless to say, I was scared. What the hell did I write in that essay?.. It was an empty 3 o’clock classroom, and the daylight looked especially sad. She told me to sit opposite her and I did. She gave me a really black look that made me expect anything, including expulsion. Then she opened my essay and asked: “How, how could you?” I shrunk to a dangerous point. “This is one of the best essays I’ve ever read. But how could you misspell that word over there?..” I stared at her, I couldn’t believe it.
Now I’m ready to play that young teacher and ask Thomas Jefferson Cowgill: “How, how could you?.. How could you record that repulsive abomination called “Fear Is All You Know” and make it the first song on your brilliant new album?” Because Fear really is brilliant. Everything that is good about dark folk and Gothic rock – it’s all in here, in these 11 songs of tragic beauty and beautiful despair. But then he had to do this tasteless Rammstein send-up that raises hackles and just beggars belief.
And still. From “Maria” onwards – Fear is perfect, every song a winner. He does acoustic, he does electric, and everything he sings has the sort of melodic menace that was only budding on King Dude’s two previous albums. Truly, the stuff here is catchy as hell where ‘hell’ is more than just a metaphor. “Bloody Mirror” (that timeless hook line I’m sure I know from elsewhere) is like a nursery rhyme for devilish babies. The dark ’n’ bouncy “Lay Down In Bedlam” is as instantly memorable as it gets. When King Dude rocks (“Demon Caller Number 9”) – he does it convincingly, with guts and with great spirit. When he does apocalyptic balladry (“Never Run”) – he can almost break your heart.
Elsewhere, “Miss September” has the best use of ‘remember’/’December’ rhyme since Pavement’s “Gold Soundz”. The 6-minute “Empty House” epic is certainly atmospheric – if slightly watered down. And the closing “Watching Over You” is an old-fashioned singalong where you are watched by the Demon rather than your lover. But don’t you fret. The disarming melody and the soaring violin will make it all worth it. So that you will almost forget how it all began and join in for King Dude’s final chant (I hope you have it in you):
“Come on you Demons and Devils, say it with me…”