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2009-05-09My review: Pagan Wanderer Lu - Fight My Battles For Me

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Link to the left is to an MP3 version of the album.

This is extremely overdue, not least because I've had this album since shortly after finding out about its release in... ooh, January? I've listened to it quite a bit since then, and as a quick capsule review: this is witty and often ascerbic lyrical goodness with increasingly pop sensibilities. It contains a track I'd been waiting for a good recording of for ages, but also lots of other gems that make this far from a one-special-song wonder. And since the author has been delivering lots of videos, live recordings and fluff to get the word out via http://paganwandererlu.wordpress.com/ you should bimble along and listen to some stuff right away. Until vids for (You & Me and) Winston Churchill, The Memorial Hall and Simple Life/Repetition 4 go up, I'd most recommend 2.0///The Bridge of Sighs and The Gentlemen's Game.

Pagan Wanderer Lu can be a bit hit-and-miss for me. I have the earlier "pro" release The Independent Scrutineer, which offers slightly different takes on a couple of demos I downloaded way back in time and liked... but I'm not actually sure what I did with the disc, and haven't been that motivated to find it. That EP has a lot of contrast between the poppier numbers and quiet songs, and doesn't work especially well as a general listen. Fight My Battles For Me still has a few quieter or less catchy numbers, but they're the first track and some of the later ones... there's a meaty block in the middle that rewards listening in sequence.

Stylistically, PWL is a mix of guitars, straight keyboards, synth and anything else that takes the artist's fancy to use as a source for sounds. The production here ensures it sounds like anything but a home bedroom recording, and arrangements are satisfyingly layered and balanced. However, starting with a beepy track maybe wasn't the best tack to take. Anger Management never really gets a pace going, and you can't help feeling that the lyrics might have been better served in another manner. Interesting background setup though.

The Gentlemen's Game is a story song about racism and football violence, and nowhere near as heavy-going as that description suggests. It picks up the pace of the album, moving from quite slow, quaint sounds and long rising keyboard notes to, appropriately, faster and more agitated tones. The wit and pace changes make for a highly entertaining track, although you may need to be careful when playing around especially literal listeners — otherwise they might come to the strange conclusion that Andy Regan means the bits he's singing in-character.

Good Christian/Bad Christian has been dusted off from earlier demos and sounds broadly the same, although all of the 'old' songs on this album have been re-recorded with the exception of Tree of Knowledge. The lyrics touch upon Iraq in an altogether more effective way than The Hot Puppies' recent King of England single, serving as a fine warm-up to my favourite track on the album...

...because it was always going to be (You & Me and) Winston Churchill that sold the disc to me without any need for other tracks to be present, and gratifyingly this is a worthwhile development from the song's demo days. It's much more stripped down, the thumping bass drum placed so far into the background it barely registers at times. Lyrically it's sublime. Churchill referred to depression as a 'black dog' and it was, in many respects, a major facet of his personality and something that made him the excessive individual he was. This is something of a celebration of that, down to the heartwarming note of finding the dog again at the end: "and then out of the crowd / we heard a bark resound / pawsteps came towards us / we saw Winston reunited with his hound".

The Tree of Knowledge has grown on me with repeated listening, but left me cold when I heard it as a single before the album. The central metaphor doesn't quite work, is sweary and I've seen boarding school environments work out well for some people. On the other hand it's very catchy and shifts the tempo of the record as a whole up a notch in the right place.

2.0///The Bridge of Sighs brings us a chill-out song about internet addiction, with a particularly great last verse. Stop traveller! Stop and read! sways on immediately afterwards, pleasantly accompanied by swooshing instrumentals, and talking about reactions to... well, being musical, I suppose. It's both vague enough to read into and probably quite specific for the songwriter.

The Memorial Hall is, like Winston Churchill, stripped down from previous heard versions. I'm not normally one for having multiple forms of a song, preferring definitive recordings and edits, but this suits the album it's part of far better than the Independent Scrutineer EP version would. The bridge section has been replaced with chiptune sounds, which takes a little getting used to but really works, before Andy launches into the familiar faster later lyrics. Also like Winston Churchill the lyrics are the highlight, deceptively simple but wry stuff that makes you think, smile, and find yourself singing later.

Simple Life/Repetition 4 dials things down a notch initially and, to me at least, wraps the strong series of songs that make up the album's core. It does so in style, building to a confident carefree beat with distinctly careworn lyrical content. It's really two related songs glued together, giving it a second wind (with the excellent chorus "we are all machines for dancing") that closes things perfectly.

Ten Cities is Not a European Tour gets a bit downbeat and directionless to my mind, as do England Expects, Knots and -------------, leaving it up to Pockets in Shrouds to add some warmth despite the topic. Then Millionaires Need People Like You wanders off again. There's an interesting hidden track tacked onto the end which is played backwards... which would have worked well as a coda to Pockets (being themed much the same lyrically) had it been the right way round, because most people won't be motivated enough to rip a CD and use audio editing software to get it.

All in all, if you keep tracks 2-9, 14 and take the time to get 16, the running length is about 39 minutes, and ten solid tracks is nothing to be sniffed at on any album. If that seems like brutal editing, bear in mind it's still a relatively long playing time and standard number of tracks for a label release, some these days clocking in at little over half an hour. You also can't fault the guy for trying to give value for money — others might well latch onto tracks and not regard them as filler, I'm not trying to come off as the last word on this kind of thing. It's nice to have the option to put together a tighter running order yourself rather than being constrained by a man in a suit's selection.

Lyrics can be found at http://paganwandererlu.esmartmusic.com/lyrics/fmbfmwords.html and the album itself can be ordered on CD from http://paganwandererlu.co.uk/ ... as far as pre-listening goes, if videos aren't enough, tracks get posted for listening at http://www.myspace.com/paganwandererlu and there's also a web presence on Facebook and various other places. DRM-free MP3s can be purchased from Amazon, with the whole album available for a fiver. The CD booklet also includes a specific note about copying it for friends, so if I know you feel free to get in touch for a full pre-listen before supporting this interesting and innovative independent artist.


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