On Neil McSweeney’s fourth album, he takes his listeners on a journey drenched in melancholy. It is absolutely fitting to describe McSweeney as a Troubadour, in the most traditional sense. A Coat Worth Wearing is a deep and atmospheric album. Loaded with reference points to the industrial age, the age of enlightenment and earlier times.
Recorded largely in full-band live-takes, it is designed to be a piece of music as much as it is a collection of songs. This is an ambitious record.
The imagery in this collection of songs is vivid and sharp throughout, , an imagery that can warm and haunt you at the same time. The lyrics are delivered in tones that make McSweeney’s voice an integral instrument. The music that is the vehicle to carry these songs is equally adept at adding to the picture, with earthy acoustics, slide guitars and blues bass all melding with thundering drums.
Given all of the above, it’s not easy to classify this record as folk. There are moments of beautiful blues and on ‘The Call’ in particular, indie rock perfection (that will have Richard Hawley eating his heart out) but it’s country or folk music that A Coat Worth Wearing is most identifiable with.
The mood is set early with both ‘Old Glory Blues’ and ‘Forlorn Hope’ absolutely steeped in brooding, dark imagery carried along with the aforementioned thundering drum and rich bass. For a subject matter that is contradictory and, well, forlorn, there is an uplifting feel in the chorus of both. They lead perfectly into ‘Danse Macabre’ and more old-world imagery, the wolf and the singer being one and the same is familiar imagery. The backdrop of gentle guitar and piano lets the singers voice carry this one, with a simple, sumptuous guitar break midway through,this is a song that can sum up the album, it’s a real high point that fades out in sadness.
A medieval or olde worlde feel is present on ‘Land of Cockaigne’. A song that is based in a medieval land of plenty. Now, admittedly, I had to use the power of the internet to figure that out but it is very much a title and story that defines the narrative of the record. The music is another melancholic base for a tale of hardship, dreams of feted pleasures, all channeled into an uplifting chorus. The historical references are prevalent again in ‘Strangers of Maresfield Gardens’ with references to Macedon’s, Hannibal and General Patton it focuses on bleak lyrics with another sweeping chorus.
Special mention also to ‘Waving Not Drowning’ with it’s quite wonderfully off-kilter key change to the chorus which with every listen has completely thrown me off. A simple, effective song of beauty.
As an album rife with imagery against a backdrop of sometimes uplifting but always dramatic musicianship. As a piece of work, it’s almost a concept album. These songs could score a film where the protagonist has lived many lives. If it were to be the soundtrack, however, then album closer ‘The Call’ may be a little out of keeping. It is a superb song that initially has the same energy but from the moment McSweeney croons, “whoa the call!” its catchy, irreverent beat and jangly guitar sweeps the album to a far more exhilarating finish than I had expected. It is a change of pace but it is a piece of indie-pop that more “esteemed” Sheffield acts would be proud of.
Definitely an album worth owning, you can buy it on CD, Vinyl or download