Release Date: 04.28.98
Record label: BMG / Razor & Tie
Genre(s): Movies, Film Scores, Musicals, Etc.
My Own Reality
by: mark feldman
Francis Dunnery falls about halfway between Billy Bragg and Phil Collins in the spectrum of extremely talented male British songwriters with larger than average egos who think they can change the world. At his best, he can harness his attitude with just enough mainstream pop sensibility to write some amazingly clever and even subversive material that we can all sing along to. At his worst, he veers off too far in either of two directions, sometimes too cute and too safe for anyone to care, or sometimes getting way too philosophic and heavy-handed even for his devoted fans.
His fourth studio album, "Let's Go Do What Happens," is a valiant effort. But it's a frustrating album to listen to, only because one can't help but wonder how any one singer can be capable of such extremes in songwriting quality. Francis Dunnery seems to be suffering from the fate he sang about in what can still be called his signature tune, "Too Much Saturn," from 1996's excellent "Tall Blonde Helicopter" CD. That song was about "severe emotional problems," or more specifically a man who has ambitions to accomplish everything at once without really thinking about whether all of it is actually necessary. To illustrate this, one need look no further than the album's closing track, "Day Job," which can only be described as a bloody mess. Trying to be a preacher, revolutionary and guidance counselor all at once, he sings "If you're sixteen years old with final exams / society's got you by the balls / you can learn that grown up stuff in your '40s if you want to." As if quitting school at 16 weren't enough to solve your personal problems, we are then instructed as follows: "This is a message to all the youth of 1998 / give up your day job / follow the grief trail home." Come again? Fortunately, he doesn't give much breathing room for anyone to figure out his cryptic message, and the song immediately romps into a plodding, third generation heavy metal riff that is best relegated to B-sides or obscure Emerson, Lake and Palmer albums.
Let's be fair. This is, after all, only one song, and there's more than enough decent material here for Mr. Dunnery to redeem himself. "My Own Reality" picks up where "Too Much Saturn" left off, an amusing take on a man with his head in the clouds. "Riding On the Back" is a neo-psychedelic anthem with a mean flute solo, while "Perfect Shape" succeeds at '70s style blue-eyed soul way better than some of his attempts on earlier albums. He even tries reggae on "Crazy Little Heart" and doesn't completely fall on his face. The real killer tune, however, is "Sunflowers." The hardest rocker on a CD relatively devoid of the tasty power chords we loved so much on "Tall Blonde Helicopter," this track is a glorious pop song, full of where-did-that-come-from chord changes, but simple enough to stick in your head immediately. Three-and-a-half minute slices of heaven such as this do not come often. Alas, it is the second song on the album and its energy doesn't come close to being duplicated again.
So is "Let's Go Do What Happens" worth having? We have to bite the bullet and say yes. Francis Dunnery could have played it safe and released another album like his last one, but he should be commended for taking risks, even if half of them end up in disaster. Hopefully it is only a matter of time before this promising singer finally paints his masterpiece. In the meantime, crank up "Sunflowers" until your ears bleed, and for heaven's sake, stop the disc before that last song.