LAJ's Album of the Month
More musicians fall off the side than ever make it. More guitars gather dust in garages and spare rooms than are strummed to stardom, thrown aside as symbols of failure and dashed desire. Abandoning an ambition of life on the long ladder with the missing rungs is a tough one. The road to hell is littered with almost-made-its, who had the recording contract, the publishing deal, a handful of singles to their name, enough paid gigs and regular session work to convince themselves that their moment was nigh. For most, it never came close. The insidious 'I want it so much' culture fostered by the X-Factor and its ilk has done little to dissuade wannabes that wanting is no guarantee. Fame and fortune won by wishing is an abhorrent lie. Success takes more than talent and determination. Timing, luck and choices matter. But even with those in place, it mostly eludes.
Still, better to try and to keep on trying than to reach the end of the road still wondering what it might have been like. You could have been a contender? Why didn't you stick with it? Michael Armstrong has, against the bleakest odds. 'The difficult second album' has not proved so for him. 'Looking for the World' is a confident, cool collection of original songs which honour the golden years of songwriting brilliance. His influences are all here, from the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Billy Joel to Macca, Steely Dan, Springsteen, Jeff Lynne and a few he hadn't even thought of. No airy-fairy pussyfooting, either: he tackles life's big subjects with grit and guts, sporting his heart on two bare arms and gargling with courage. His vast vocal ability and blatant inclination to love overflow from the soulful and spirited 'Gold Dust' and 'A Love that's True'. The title track is a stand-out hit, multi-layered and soaring, classic love pop with an unashamed Cliff vibe. Rapid, poetic 'Gypsy' reflects Dylan through its delivery and snipey lyrics. 'This Green & Unpleasant Land' is loaded with Lennonesque cynicism. His tight grip on Joel-style storytelling through song lilts loudly and wonderfully from 'The Haunting of Betty Higgins' ('..that acrid scent of sophomore' .. what a line!), biting and darkly from 'Periscope' with its magical Beach Boys trip, and on 'Rosie's Brother'. I heard the news today, oh boy. George Harrison haunts 'She's All Kooky' via a jangly Sixties string swing. 'Queen of Hearts', through playing-card symbolism, sums up both the album and Michael's entire experience of trying to make it in the music business. It also boasts what might be my favourite lyrical couplet (though the jury's still out):
'Oh loving flame, I'm blinded by your light/I surrender, I remain yours forever, hold me tight.'
I am wildly proud of Michael's co-writer, co-player and co-producer, the truly gifted Warren Bennett for his tireless commitment to this cause. Guitars, bass, drums, percussion, keyboards, handclaps and giggling: you name it, Warren contributed it. Chip off the old block, boy. Give us a kiss.
Sharp, infectious, whole-lotta-love, #LookingForTheWorld defies age, eras and genres in homage to music. Maybe you'll dance round the kitchen in your slippers to this, or round your handbag in your gladrags. Go on, we're watching. An album with everything? You bet. Bravo, Mike, Warren and Lisa. I love it. The world will love it too.