Richard Dawson - Peasant

by Jason Atkinson Rating:5 Release Date:2017-06-09

Richard Dawson has been at this since 2007, and the current album, called “Peasant” is his latest offering. It’s a follow-up to 2014’s “Nothing Important” and, well, la de da, read about him in periodicals like The Guardian. The album is released on Weird World Records, which is a Domino Records imprint. This places him right at the top of the pops in company with The Dirty Projectors, Bonnie Prince Billie, and the Arctic Monkeys. Michael Hann (The Guardian) writes: “whether it [the music] is a masterpiece or a fraud will become apparent with the passage of time.” He wrote this in 2014. Later, in another article (in 2017, now in The Quietus) Hann again (are they bros?) interviews Dawson. One of the questions was this:

How careful was your research? The level of detail is astounding: I'm presuming your recipe for dye in the dark ages in 'Weaver' is accurate…”

You better believe that recipe was accurate.

“Peasant” tries to be unconventional. It focuses on being experimental and subverting song form AND getting the recipe for dye in dark ages just right and insert whatever other crap that will make Dawson seem smart. The only thing that is missing here is this — a human heart and soul. Y’know, the kind that doesn’t mind letting itself be naked and vulnerable. The kind that makes a listener feel something. “Peasant,” instead, focuses on being both pseudo-amateurish and erudite in an effort to impress, evoking the feeling of I-don’t-understand-this-music-so-it-must-be-sophisticated-I-had-better-listen-to-it-so-that-others-view-me-as-intelligent. It makes no effort to guide the listener, to give them an entry point, to help them along.

Even the experimentation feels a little predictable. Most of the time, for example, Dawson does a one-minute clangy guitar intro before his voice (a good voice) comes in and starts to sing about medieval things that are impossible to care about. Later,  a loud noise will happen. This is meant to be unexpected. Expect backup vocals yelling at loud volumes. This will occur over and over again and the likelihood that you will find it pleasant and/or uplifting will be low.

“Fanfare” features trumpets doing a fanfare, but then stopping and making a few random sounds because that’s funny or something. “Ogre” is a Tolkien meets Jethro Tull mash-up with some interesting chord progressions and modulations. It could be great, but it becomes tiresome after a minute. “Soldier,” is a little bit more interesting because there does seem to be an attempt to be mindful of the expected in song structure while attempting relentless subversion. “Weaver” ends big with lots of group singing. “Prostitute” shows off Dawson’s exceptional vocal range, but the song is almost impossible to listen to because it’s a bunch of confusion and noise.

“Shapeshifter” is a bunch of lo-fi guitar crap. The music doesn’t let you in. It feels protected and closed, navel gazing, and concerned with impressing the listener with lots of wordplay. “Scientist” varies things, featuring a :40-second guitar intro before Dawson starts singing something that 's hard to care about. “Hob” is pointless.

But, wait! “Beggar” is a pretty good song, the best of the bunch. Beautiful violin, some touch-points for this beleaguered critic. I dislike Richard Dawson just a little bit less while this tune plays. Yet, here we go again, “No-one,” the next track, is back to the same whatever. Finally, “Masseuse” starts out with some nice driving drum beats that drive us right into the I-don’t-care-about-this-song hole where festering death awaits us. 

But, hey, he gets written up in The Guardian. He must be doing something right.

Right?

In my opinion: Richard Dawson is hiding. He’s hiding behind his experimentation, his protective layer. No one can judge him too harshly here. He needs to come out of hiding, put himself at risk, make himself vulnerable, and — gasp — even try to be a little bit ordinary. Because people might say they care, they might clap and smile, they might even buy the vinyl and the t-shirt and the other fanciful objects that are available to take home and smile at. 

But they might think of other things.

Even Michael Hann knows it. Or at least expects it. 

This is more fraud than masterpiece.

Overall Rating (4)

1.5 out of 5 stars

Comments (12)

  • ramac

    Rated 0.5 out of 5 stars

    Looks like you're very much on your own with this one, Jason!

    Utterly cack-handed review, and is more illustrative of the writer's shortcomings as an art critic- to see beyond and beneath the surface of a piece of art is a pretty basic entry-level skill. 'it's just some songs about the middle ages'

  • Bob Coyne

    In reply to ramac

    I think you need to read the review again. I think Jason was simply suggesting that Richard Dawson could do better if he didn't hide behind experimentation. I wouldn't say this was an overly negative review.

  • ramac

    In reply to Bob Coyne

    I read the article closely, Bob. Did you make it to the end? 'more fraud than masterpiece'. Fraudulent?! And this is not a record many people would call 'experimental' - it's lush, with (mainly) conventional strong structures, and by a long distance his most accessible work.

  • Jason Atkinson

    In reply to ramac

    Cack-handed?! At least the work provoked a reaction in me. It was a strong reaction, but I'd like to believe that an experimental artist like Richard Dawson can take it. Or perhaps he was hoping for something more soft and worshipful. I can write tha, too. But It'll cost ye: 2 sacks of GOLD FLORIN!

  • ramac

    In reply to Jason Atkinson

    Yes cack-handed, and rather embarrassing. Comparisons to Jethro Tull and Tolkien are pretty feeble. Why not go the whole hog and invoke Monty Python and Blackadder? Tired and unimaginative. And your ending joke would probably work a wee bit better with 'gold florin' replaced by 'groat'.

  • Bob Coyne

    In reply to ramac

    Is that you Richard?

  • ramac

    In reply to Bob Coyne

    'you must be listening to a different record', 'were you even at the gig?', 'did you read the article' etc. etc. Weak. Dawson would probably enjoy reading this review. My problem with it isn't that it is negative, it's that it is so bad: half-baked argument, lacking basic insight, & poorly written.

  • Jason Atkinson

    In reply to ramac

    http://images.amcnetworks.com/ifc.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Half-Baked.jpg

  • ramac

    Rated 0.5 out of 5 stars

    & absurdly 'he's hiding'! His skill is imbuing these olde worlde tales with both an urgency that speaks clearly to today, and a heartbreaking vulnerability. These songs are clearly wrung out of him. And (especially compared to his previous LPs) this is not 'experimental' at all. Oh Jason!

  • ramac

    Rated 0.5 out of 5 stars

    RD has an older song called 'wooden bag'; it describes & is about (ostensibly, Jason!) a satchel made of oak, but underneath it is a truly affecting song about memory and longing. No doubt Jason wont be listening - 'who cares about a bag made of wood? just stupid!'. Back to school for you, my boy!

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