Glen Hansard - This Wild Willing - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Glen Hansard - This Wild Willing

by Brian Thompson Rating:7 Release Date:2019-04-12
Glen Hansard - This Wild Willing
Glen Hansard - This Wild Willing

Glen Hansard is much more of a musical chameleon than he’s given credit for. Whether it’s the Irish rock groove he found with The Frames or the soft ballads he constructed as a part of his award-winning collaboration with Markéta Irglová, he continuously displays a knack for blending his own personality into the specific resources of those around him. As such, he is constantly able to keep listeners on their toes as he winds through various stylistic avenues. Utilizing the Khoshravesh brothers’ Iranian flair, This Wild Willing finds Hansard moving away from the ceremonial roots tunes we’ve come to expect from his scholarly folk albums of the last decade, instead gravitating toward slow-burning, sprawling cantatas.

So much of Hansard’s fourth solo album is fascinated with monumental, gradual builds. Whether it’s the funky beat and whispered vocals of “I’ll Be You, Be Me” blossoming into an overwhelming, whirlwind climax, the piano tickles and spoken word baritone of “Don’t Settle” (reminiscent of Nick Cave) picking up as it fills the space with a booming orchestra, or the hushed, drifting ballad “Fool's Game”  transitioning from a subtle, muted saxophone into an explosive ending, This Wild Willing is filled with searing tracks that are given ample space to boil over. One could make the argument that these fizzling, expansive songs are probably a bit too long for their own good (many pass the six-minute mark), but if they had been shaved down, their extreme evolution in tone wouldn’t feel nearly as organic.

Throughout the album, Hansard is pushing the boundaries of his comfort zone. From the flowing Latin beat of “Race to the Bottom” to the desert breeze of “The Closing Door,” This Wild Willing is undoubtedly a sizeable leap for the singer-songwriter.  Sure, there are moments that showcase the sort of finger-picking, acoustic folk we’ve come to expect from Hansard (“Brother’s Keeper,” “Mary”), but they are the exception to the rule. He’s wandering through the wilderness and starting over from scratch. There’s a mosaic quality to the record, as Hansard throws a variety of ideas at the wall to see what sticks. Fortunately for us, most of them do.

Much of the album carries with it a seriousness in its solemn bars. Swirling, tender piano track “Weight of the World” and “Who's Gonna Be Your Baby Now” with its bittersweet, swelling string section find Hansard at his most vulnerable, laying his worries out on the table. These emotive vignettes of strained interpersonal relationships mimic the intimacy they are striving to capture. Even in the midst of experimentation, there’s an unmistakable sense of identity as Hansard pulls from the various facets of his being. In true Irish fashion, he leaves us with a blessing, “Leave a Light,” even thickening up his brogue to do so. The gorgeous Celtic exercise in empathy ends the record on a hopeful note, as the clouds break and we step confidently into the unknown.   

This Wild Willing is an album that takes enormous risks. It begins at a recognizable starting point for an established performer and then snowballs into a tapestry of unfamiliar pathways. Between the sweet, intimate dirges and the driving, drifting epics, Glen Hansard is searching for the limits of his sound. But even as he ventures away from the comforts of monotony, he is carrying the melodies of home along with him.

Comments (1)

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Hansard is definitely pushing boundaries here, but for me, the album is a resounding success. Great review as always Brian.

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