I had to get hold of a (hard) copy of Richard Dawson’s newie 2020, from the minute it came out. It struck me that there are now very few artists remaining whose new releases I feel that ‘must have’ (and the excitement that inevitably accompanies this urge). This is a reflection of my age, I’m sure. I’m not exactly ‘jaded’, but am at a stage that is very close to this.
There are a few artists that remain on my ‘essentials’ lists, for their new recordings:
Alasdair Roberts (it was at a gig by him that I first encountered Dawson’s abrasive folk),
Nick Cave (who also has an upcoming release that is being praised to the high heavens online)
Burial and Autechre perhaps.
There is a free-floating list of free improvisers that I always keep an eye on.
Still Bob Dylan, certainly, probably the only remaining artist of his generation who can keep one on one’s toes.
Tom Waits seems to have retired in all seriousness.
Boards of Canada seem to have retired at a young age.
I’ll probably check out Kevin Martin’s new Zonal release, but that’s largely it.
But, to counteract this rather defeatist list of ‘must always check out’, we have 2020, more tremendous stuff from Newcastle’s finest. My wife, on first hearing it, said it sounded like Robert Wyatt. This hadn’t occurred to me, but I can see what she’s getting at. An ‘idiosyncratic’ (terrible word, I know!) song collection whose subject-matter is Englishness in all it’s dreadful, yet quasi-endearing manifestations of awfulness. For me, this is Richard’s most consistently focused release. No long-form marathons such as the two on Nothing Important, no guiding ‘concept’ such as the medieval shtick on Peasant, no guitar solo instrumentals such as on The Magic Bridge’. Now, I happen to be a HUGE fan of Dawson’s guitar, and urge him to consider albums that highlight this aspect of his genius, but 2020 consists of contemporary SONGS, all around four or so minutes in length, and all forming a portrait of England in 2019. And, as you can imagine, it’s largely a depressing one.
There is, in this album: a composition about a depressed ‘Civil Servant’, who hates what his job makes him do to the dispossessed. a family disastrously affected by flooding, a loving, yet over-controlling, ‘football dad’, an individual struggling with ‘anxiety’ and some ways of dealing with this, a message from a cuckolded man via the internet, a UFO nut, a zero-hours contract worker, a parent upset at seeing their daughter off to university, and, finally, a homeless man getting an back-alley kicking. AND SO MUCH MORE within all these fantastic songs.
You have been told , as gospel, that Ray Davies, Billy Bragg and Damon Albarn are the great pop commentators on Englishness? Now make way for the next one, an utterly contemporary voice. Richard Dawson makes me think back to Bragg’s mid-eighties ‘harmolodic’ guitar albums (i.e. the first two, Life’s a Riot… and Brewing Up With,,) to find an equivalent radical guitar/social conscience voice, all of 35 years ago. Richard Dawson is playing among y’all today - you really owe it to yourselves to listen to an artist who just might be an antidote to the ‘jadedness’ that I sometimes feel..