Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Album Review :: Nick Harper - The Wilderness Years Vol. 2

Nick Harper

The Wilderness Years Vol. 2

October 2015 (Weatherbox Records)


Words: Richard O’Hagan

This is the second instalment of Nick Harper’s vinyl-only career retrospective, covering the three studio albums - 'Blood Songs’, ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Miracles For Beginners’ - which he released between 2000 and 2007 on his own Sangraal label. Harper’s approach to recording over the past decade or so has been somewhat piecemeal and this is very much reflected in these nine tracks, all selected by Harper himself.

The problem, of course, is that what an artist perceives as being their finest work is not always the same as what the record buying public (a phrase we can use with justification for once!) think is their finest work. That discrepancy is perfectly exemplified by the opening and closing numbers of this collection. ‘Foreplay/Love Junky’ is one of Harper’s strongest works, with the gentle acoustic opening sliding tightly into the heavier and more up-tempo second half of the song in a way which perfectly encapsulates what we’ve always been told is the most idealistic form of coitus. Indeed, the only thing stopping it from being genius is the lack of effort made to find more rhymes for the title – there’s only so often you want to hear the words ‘funky’ and ‘monkey’ repeated in a song and Harper goes way over that limit.

At the other extreme, ‘Lily’s Song’ is a trite little number which, although it undoubtedly has great meaning for Harper himself (it is about his daughter), adds little to the collection, especially when included at the expense of the absent ‘Sleeper Cell’. In fact, ‘The Wilderness Years’ also encapsulates what has always been an odd quirk in Harper’s music, that he is an acoustic artist who is almost always better when he ups the tempo and the volume. This is showcased by ‘Real Life’ and ‘By My Rocket Comes Fire’ being back to back in the track listing. One is a worthy but dull downbeat number which slips from your memory as soon as it ends; the other is a riotous singalong which will stay with you for the rest of the day if you are not careful.

‘The Wilderness Years Vol. 2’ is only available at Harper’s live shows, from independent shops and various other isolated outlets. It doesn’t even have an official release date. These things in themselves say as much about Harper’s non-conformist, non-commercial approach to his music as the record does about the music itself.

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