Matt Berry - Night Terrors - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Matt Berry - Night Terrors

by Jon Burke Rating:7 Release Date:2017-11-21
Matt Berry - Night Terrors
Matt Berry - Night Terrors

Matt Berry is one of those rare individuals whose entire being is amusing. Like Will Ferrell, or Tig Notaro, Berry can make even the most mundane act, gesture or phrase into something sidesplittingly funny. And it is precisely because he is so funny that my engagement with Berry’s very serious music career has been somewhat tainted. I have a very difficult time separating Matt Berry The Comedian from Matt Berry The Musician. Moreover, Berry frequently uses his musical talent for comedic purposes. For example, I cannot think of a better music-as-punchline joke than the video below, from a 2005 episode of Snuff Box: The Empty Room. To be frank, there is a part of me that would be very enthusiastic at the prospect of an album by Matt Berry The Comedian.

Approaching Night Terrors, outtakes and remixes from last year’s The Small Hours, I was a bit nervous about whether I would be able to hear the music without comedic prejudice coming into play. Fortunately for me, Berry’s talent and low-key approach led to the creation of a really enjoyable album. Though most of the new material on Night Terrors are covers, most offer a truly fresh approach to the originals that actually builds upon the originals’ appeal. If there is a through line on Night Terrors it would be an almost Brazilian-style jazz take on Berry’s usual lounge sound. Collaborators, including electro-geniuses Clark and St. Etienne, offer Berry newer, more complicated, drum sounds which pair nicely with his chilled-out 60’s vibe.

Of the few originals on Night Terrors, two are remixes of the titular song. The first, by St. Etienne, is a big, bold strutting guitar version of Berry's expansive, nine minute, jazz-centric original. St. Etienne’s drum sound shapes the track into a Modish throwback which sets a tone for the rest of the record. The Clark remix on the other hand, takes “Night Terrors'” smoky jazz pretentions and chops them into an Aphex Twinish mess of drum and bass tension. Though I love most of Clark’s output (particularly Body Riddle and Clark (S/T)) this remix seems unnecessary, especially in the light of the covers Berry included.

Berry’s first cover, “Angi”, departs greatly from the Davy Graham original. Instead of Graham’s plucked-out, acoustic folk, Berry turns the song into an organ-heavy instrumental that would be more at home on a Small Faces album. The production is so clean, and Berry’s reverence for a 60’s Mod/psychedelic sound so pure, that one would be forgiven for mistaking “Angi” for something actually recorded in that era.

Going against the grain are Berry’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “Any Colour You Like” and Frank Zappa’s “Mr. Green Genes.” These two unique takes on classic rock songs offer complete reimagining of the originals. Unlike “Angi,” which is instantly recognizable, “Any Colour You Like” barely resembles the dramatic keyboard/guitar saga it’s based on. Instead, Berry’s version sounds a bit like a low-key, underwater lounge act, replete with a chorus of orgasmic female backing vocals and laser effects and in this way has more in common with “The Great Gig in the Sky” than “Any Colour You Like”.

Equally disconnected from its progenitor is “Mr. Green Genes,” a Mothers of Invention track from Uncle Meat. While the Zappa original plods along with all the joy of a rainy funeral procession, Berry’s cover is a soaring, snappy, up-tempo affair. He somehow turns the repeated line “With sauerkraut/Ooh, ooh!” into a sexually suggestive side order. The silliness of the lyrics gets a bit lost in the Zappa original and the suggestion to first eat vegetables, then one’s own shoes and finally a truck shines through in an amusing, jaunty way in Berry’s version. And while the Mothers’ version seems merely to be a bizarre dietary suggestion, Berry’s version feels like a speedy descent into a kind irresistibly silly madness. “Mr. Green Genes,” is the one moment on Night Terrors in which Berry’s comedic sensibilities seem to briefly takeover and, not surprisingly, it’s one of the best moments on the album.

Another interesting cover choice is “Hey Little Girl” by Icehouse, the 80’s Aussie synthpop outfit. The original sounds a bit like Howard Jones fronting New Order on a heavy dose of cold medicine. Berry’s cover is an acoustic, accordion-heavy, affair which has more in common with a sea shanty, or R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” than the upbeat 808-heavy original. Though Berry’s version is quite distinct, unlike Night Terrors’ other covers, “Hey Little Girl” doesn’t benefit from Berry’s new take on the material. Instead, the song coalesces into a kind of swirling mess of accordions, synthesizers and Berry’s vocals that is less inspiring than it is insipid. This is followed by the aforementioned Clark remix and the album ends.

Ultimately the brevity of Night Terrors, combined with the hit-and-miss quality of the songs included, doesn’t pack nearly the same impact that The Small Hours has. Night Terrors definitely showcases Berry’s range, and some new influences, but there isn’t enough meat on these bones for a full meal—instead this feels more like a musical digestif. This isn’t to say Night Terrors is a bad record but just that I am confident I will be going back to The Small Hours far more often, in addition to Berry’s earlier work, than I will find myself revisiting this album. As stated before, the day Matt Berry The Comedian and Matt Berry The Musician become one would truly be the most exciting outcome.

 

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