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Joseph Arthur and the Lonely Astronauts -... Album Cover

Joseph Arthur and the Lonely Astronauts -...

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7.9
Joseph Arthur and the Lonely Astronauts - Temporary People
Record Label: Lonely Astronaut Records
Release Date: September 30, 2008
This review was written by an AP.net staff member.
It’s good to be Joseph Arthur. Hand-selected by Peter Gabriel in the early 90s to appear on his label Real World Records, the singer/songwriter has seen nothing but good press for the duration of his career. But it has not exactly been easy.

His debut album was produced by Bjork alum Markus Dravs (the co-producer on Coldplay’s latest), and he’s shared the stage with Ben Harper, Gomez, Tracey Chapman and REM to name a few. To date, he’s had his songs covered by Michael Stipe, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, and Justin Timberlake and even received a Grammy nod for his album artwork in the late 90s.

But none of it has come easy. For much of his 12-year career, Arthur has battled to overcome alcoholism and substance abuse, much of which still serves as fodder for his songs, including his latest, Temporary People. Known for his captivating live shows, which feature looping and distortion techniques, and his prolific nature (he makes Ryan Adams look lazy), Arthur does little wrong in the studio. Temporary People, his seventh studio album, marks the second album with his new backing band, The Lonely Astronauts (featuring Jennifer Turner and Kraig Jarret Johnson), and the third album on his own label, Lonely Astronaut Records. It’s also the fifth release of 2008, after a series of four EPs that were released this spring.

Arthur has gone on record as saying Temporary People moves like a journey and deals with battling demons and struggling to maintain the image of self. He’s also suggested that his new fans listen to this album over all of his others. Say what!? Poppycock! I'll say it right now, I strongly suggest listeners that are new to his music, avoid this album at all costs.

No, the album is not a disaster, it’s just a quirky quagmire of sound. Arthur earned his keep by being a singer/songwriter and his expansion into full-band, arena-ready heights is still taking some work. The album’s sonic heights are remarkable and definitely carry a dense vibe that recalls The Rolling Stones, The Black Crowes, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, but its low points are quite low. That could be of course because the songs are at their core folk rock, carried through from Arthur's days on the singer/songwriter circuit. This folk-based core allows the album to segue nicely into gospel, jam, twang country and classic rock.

The album’s best track is “Heart’s a Soul,” which is a smoky number that evokes Leonard Cohen and features a church-choir chorus. Other head-turners are the organ-fueled soul of “Turn You On,” the blistering rocker “Sunrise Dolls,” the Rolling Stones-esque title track, and the heart-weary ballad “Say Goodbye.” But then there are the problems and boy, are there a few. The album’s biggest weakness is that it gets too jammy and moves along like a smoky, beer-soaked bar record. Been there, done that. It’s tolerable in places, but gets washed down by repeated guitar jams and fuzz. It’s a good driving record, but don’t expect to be floored when it’s done.

The biggest problem is that Arthur has an inherent talent in all aspects (vocals, songwriting, lyrics) and never seems to fully harness these gifts. Every album he’s released since 2002 has tried to match the brilliance of his breakthrough Redemption’s Son, but nothing to date has ever come anywhere close to its grandeur. Case in point are his vocals, which at times sound warbled and drunken, and other times husky and commanding. As a listener, it’s frustrating that he can’t ever seem to find the right vocal style.

The problem is that Arthur tries to dabble into so many different genres that the album often loses its way and rambles, meandering past its goals and its cohesiveness. His one high point is that throughout his career, he has always been an above-average lyricist and is never clichéd or misdirected. Sometimes his words can be raw, brutal, and cathartic and other times ebullient, buoyant, and uplifting. They are also sometimes confusing, case in point, this head-scratcher on “Say Goodbye,”: "The letter you left me was laced with your perfume/Like a butterfly tryin' to fly back into her cocoon.”

Huh!? With a lyric like that, and a mind that puzzling, maybe it’s not all that great to be Joseph Arthur, after all.

Recommended if You LikeDrive-By Truckers; My Morning Jacket; Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

myspace.com/josepharthur
 
Displaying posts 1 - 3 of 3
08:08 PM on 01/14/09
#2
Jeremy Aaron
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I'm intrigued by this guy. The Let's Just Be album from a couple of years ago was pretty random, with "Diamond Ring" sounding like a Rolling Stones song while the 20-minute "Lonely Astronaut" sounded like an even more drugged-out incarnation of Animal Collective going off the deep end. The first of those EPs last year was pretty straight-up rock and, while I heard there were going to be more, never actually heard about them being released. I'll have to go back and catch up.
12:58 PM on 01/15/09
#3
Gregory Robson
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I'm intrigued by this guy. The Let's Just Be album from a couple of years ago was pretty random, with "Diamond Ring" sounding like a Rolling Stones song while the 20-minute "Lonely Astronaut" sounded like an even more drugged-out incarnation of Animal Collective going off the deep end. The first of those EPs last year was pretty straight-up rock and, while I heard there were going to be more, never actually heard about them being released. I'll have to go back and catch up.
Dude, you are right on the money in regards to the sound. He's pretty odd, isn't he?
Glad someone else is a fan, and a skeptical one at that. Cheers!

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