Dave Rowntree is a quiet, steadying influence in Blur. The long-time drummer has softly inputted to the band’s work for years now, all while growing his shadow career in the soundtrack realm. ‘Radio Songs’ is his first full solo album, and it’s an intriguing work of autobiography, balancing his private passions against a very English sense of pop that reminds you of Robert Wyatt, Wild Beasts, or even his day job.
Produced by Leo Abrahams, ‘Radio Songs’ hangs together wonderfully well. Envisaged as a trawl through the long wave dial, it’s sonically disparate yet also engaging as a pop presence. Take lead single ‘Tape Measure’ – it’s overtly fun, definitively intelligent, twisting and turning in concentric circles. A dizzying array of ideas, his soft vocal lacks polish but it’s all the more pleasing for it.
The record is packed with lovingly fostered details. Take the stuttering percussive impact of opener ‘Devil’s Island’, the choral harmonies lingering ominously in the background. ‘London Bridge’ is one of the project’s most urgent moments, and its 80s leaning palette recalls Gary Numan’s fantastic early singles, or perhaps Depeche Mode’s imperial run.
‘Machines Like Me’ allows the pace to slacken, the glacial arrangement utilising space as an instrument in itself. It’s ever empty, though, the production emphasising subtlety against Dave Rowntree’s affecting vocal.
Political with a small ‘p’ – ‘Devil’s Island’ holds a mirror up to our current fractured state – ‘Radio Songs’ is more often introspection, and personal. Never hectoring, it feels like the work of a songwriter simply allowing his emotions to seep through naturally. ‘1000 Miles’ for example, is about argument in a relationship, and it’s resolution – it’s highly natural, and all the more engaging for it.
Taken on its own terms, ‘Radio Songs’ is undoubtedly a triumph. The long-time drummer may be walking hesitantly into the spotlight, but the record carries a softly-spoken sense of confidence. An enriching song cycle, we sincerely hope this is only the start.
Words: Robin Murray