While those that took the time to get to know 2014’s superlative ‘The Breaks’ embraced it as a melodic delight, its creator felt somewhat dissatisfied. It took the seismic impact of David Bowie’s passing to trigger a creative response that would become this album. Abandoning everything he had been working on and starting with the lyrics in order to set the tone, Martin Carr poured out a truth that he had skirted around and attempted to keep in check for some time.
No one genre dominates proceedings, although a combined soundtrack of the life’s work of the Thin White Duke and a mix of Sixties and Seventies soul accompanied the writing of the album. Elements of those clearly had an impact across the eight songs that make up ‘New Shapes Of Life’, but there is one notable change for the already initiated. On this occasion, Carr’s trusty guitar was left out in the cold. Instead, he spent much of his time working with samples and seeing what his keyboard was capable of delivering. As a consequence of these various elements, a luxuriant pop sensibility forms the core of this album.
The mid-paced atmospherics of ‘A Mess Of Everything’ swirl around the dislocated purposelessness of being “stoned in the kitchen, awake at the dawn. The universe opens for me; go back to sleep ‘cause there’s nothing to see.” An aching chorus gives way to emphatic, synthetic horns and a stylophone buzz as beauty comes from pain. While the overarching narrative of ‘New Shapes Of Life’ is largely transparent, Carr inspired by Bowie’s self-expression to explore his own thoughts, the resulting music is overwhelmingly warm and inviting.
‘Three Studies Of The Male Back’ weirdly, brilliantly, evokes early nineties Bowie – he’s thorough, is Martin Carr – coming on like a turbo-charged ‘Jump They Say’ with its intro, before ascending to majestic places. The phrase “stoned as a goose” is an early doors highlight, but the lyric as a whole is concerned with a lack of identity and offers one of many references to the stark reality of the mirror across the record. Here is a voice trying to break through it all, but caught between laughter and despair even when watching a sitcom. “I’m not as good as I want to be and I’m better than I think I am,” he sings, as part of an account of pretending to see the world like almost everybody else. It’s a remarkable song and very possibly the best thing he has ever released.
Metaphors for collapse abound and Carr’s honesty around the subsequent impact upon his mental health makes explicit a context that is hardly hidden in these beautiful songs. This music poured out and then it stopped. Although a couple of other pieces were worked on, the frame of mind and circumstances behind ‘New Shapes Of Life’ were unique and these thirty-one minutes exist together as a record of that time, untouched since. All of which makes for a cohesive, immersive listen that heartily repays repeated listens.
As well as the confrontational truth of the mirror, the imagery of ‘the van’ runs across three tracks. At times it seems to represent the endless monotony of touring, having begged for freedom from industry grind during ‘The Main Man’ especially, but at others it seems to be coming to take him away. Indeed, the penultimate track is actually titled ‘The Van’ and it audibly pulls up at the start of closing piece ‘The Last Song’, possessing a brief lyric that references an ending of sort, the aforementioned mirror dropping to the floor. As regrets pour out, the final line of the album describing this specific act seems to mark the conclusion of a difficult period. The sound of the door slamming that concludes ‘New Shapes Of Life’ appears to confirm this. Hopefully, this ending also marks the beginning of a new era for Martin Carr, an artist in rare form.
Words: Gareth James
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