By Name. By Nature - THAT JOE PAYNE (TJP 001)
Joe Payne a.k.a. THAT JOE PAYNE is a man whose vision and ambition is in equal measure with his talent, which is a good thing as few acts could create and sustain his opulent and mannered tapestry of delights. He makes Coldplay sound like a scratch orchestra with his first offering since departing from Prog Institution that is, and remains The Enid. Their first resident vocalist during their forty-five plus years, after six albums it was time to go solo.
Two and a half years in the making, and the evidence of his recovery from a breakdown, By Name. By Nature is a dizzyingly varied stab at immortality. An autobiographical extravaganza from a richly embellished portfolio, his is a perfect collision between theatrical sensibilty and the world of song. The collection has a neat archness. At times a self-regarding exercise, it is as critical as it is honest. Far from shy and retiring it makes a bigger splash than anything you'll encounter this year. A gaudy rainbow of audacity and doubt, it twitches with ideas and delivers and develops a variety of moods from his rich interior world. As lyrically honest as it is a total BIG production, a glitzy roller-coaster of a record.
Opening with "The Thing About Me Is" Payne reveals:
"The thing about me is
I'm too insecure
No wonder no-one likes me
I guess I'm all yours"
A brutally honest, yet rather witty put down, isn't how most artists would introduce their debut. It neatly slides into "By Name. By Nature" a choir drenched collision of Barry Manilow in bed with Electric Light Orchestra and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Plainly deranged, it is a busy, frantic burst into being and alerts the listener to fact that are in the presence of a musical eccentric with a wide array of influences. Baton down the hatches a ton of glitter balls are spinning and cascading. The lyrics betray his sense of self-dismantling
"That Joe Payne
Is a real bad loser
He's a Payne by name
And he'll only use you"
The laddie as a tramp, and a thoroughly disreputable one in his opinion. West End meets East End with a dose of old Hollywood and a fizz of immodest panache. It keeps spiralling long after it has disappeared along with its "Sparky's Magic Piano" motif. The late lamented Jobriath attempted such a stab at rock and theatrical panache almost a half century ago and was immolated by the critics. Payne won't suffer the same fate. Times have fortunately changed, and he is an open book who isn't apologising for being himself. Jobriath antagonised. Payne simply mesmerises as is apparent with "Nice Boy," a piece of Hip Hop backbeat and Steinski-like blips and electronic hiccups and blasts it all with a choir to boot.
"They tell me I'm worthless.
They tell me I'm dumb...
They tell me I'd be nothing
They tell me I'm a bad boy.
They say that I'm gay,
They say I don't belong here...
A breathlessly manic but totally inspired outburst instilled with wry lyrical dissections.
"In My Head" is a perfect taking down of the frenetic tone. An almost monastic array of voices are the trampoline from which Payne arcs and soars and betrays the rich tonality of his voice, it suggests the refined baroque elements of Japan and Talk Talk. Again the lyrics belie a certain honesty of spirit.
"Nothing's under the bed....
You shouldn't be upset
They say it's all in your mind
It's all in your head"
The song also suggests Freddie Mercury at his most reflective best, and Rufus Wainwright devoid of the showiness that sometimes spoils the impact of his songs. "With What Is The World Coming To" Payne shines with all his song-craft and sense of intense melody. Think Keith West's maverick "Excerpt From A Teenage Opera."
"I keep feeling lo-loneliness
I keep feeling low
I keep feeling lo-loneliness
Never needed nothing to believe in"
Melancholy with a plethora of power chords, and choral beauty. An ear-worm of a song that wakes one up in the morning running around your brain. A jaunty and confident masterpiece, visionary and extraordinary and possessed with a subtle confidence and a cushion of choirs. The presence of Celine Dion's drama pervades, but without ever descending into Maria Carey's warbling histrionics. Payne is also the possessor of a four octave range. He pipes it at the conclusion with the grace of the caged bird that sings. "Love (Not The Same)" is a perfect collision of old standards like "Anyone Who Had A Heart" and "Love Letters." An extraordinary power ballad to weep into your gin, a song about loving someone simply because you fancy them, and that's you sole source of commonality.
I would love to be through with it
But I cannot tear away from it
It's a funny thing."
The song is neatly aided and abetted by the perfectly pitched Ms Amy Birks who is a neat counterpoint to Payne's brilliant bombast. The song that exits in a screech of frustration. all perfectly pitched of-course, and alone, well worth purchasing the album for. It flies so high it is in danger of entering another world.
A perfectly honest ballad with a churning melody to die for "I Need A Change" has had all its drama pills as it weaves its way along Payne's descent into a nervous breakdown. A goodbye cruel world malady and one he was lucky to survive just as we are privy to experience the artistry he has distilled from it. Sad, destructive, and dangerous experiences can be transfigured to become things of grace, but only in the right hands where it is transcended by an opulence of touch. His wounded soul is our reward, but comes at a price from the muse that gifts accordingly.
"Dear life I'm leaving you
Cos I have no reason to stay...
The black dog bites
He puts up quite a fight
He looks at me with those sad eyes."
A perfect transcendent journey of a tune.
"End Of The Tunnel" is a work whose deeply personal nature has kept it in the shadows, and out of the limelight for more than a decade.
"Tears are your protection
Let the rivers flow
Are the way to go."
A considered slice of exposed reflection which has a poignancy laced with subdued angst and occasional flourishes of Tori Amos at her most hauntingly sorrowful, and yet it builds into some of the best epic flourishes that Pink Floyd would distill and deliver. A song that deserves to soar and fly along the arches and cloisters of a cathedral, and hopefully one day in the becoming future it will. "I Need A Change" is a bass-driven piece of pop flexibility and grace with an underlying operatic aria at play. A baroque elegance with a casual finesse it has a shuffle and bop vibe that works well with its inherent classicism. All draws to an end with "Moonlit Love" a torch song that weaves a "Moonlight Sonata" progression with the string driven opulence of Tomaso Albinoni and Samuel Barber. Dramatic and lilting it reaches high and then descends in a slow dive and goodbye; a piece that simply wanders away, quietly, understated and haunting.
Clever without being irritating. Pomp devoid of pompousness, this is an album imbued with honesty, ambition and good humour. It is also an indication that THAT JOE PAYNE has arrived with a wealth of magical ideas. A splendid progression towards a new beginning.
The album is released on August 7, 2020.