Album review

The Servant : The Servant
Prolifica Recordings

The Servant : The ServantThe Servant have been operating on the fringes of London's rock underground for several years, and it's about bloody time someone took notice. Dealing with issues of obsession, human biology, infidelity, and loneliness amongst others, the band led by vocalist, guitarist and laptop tweaker Dan Black, suffuse their low-rent tales with superbly constructed musical themes, beautiful harmonies and a sense that they have been doing this far longer than they actually have.

This self-titled first full-length album is driven by stark realism and starts how it means to go on: "It'll all click when the mortgage clears, all our fears will disappear." Knowing that the 'grin and bear it' philosophy is the English way, Black recognises that despite the comparative luxury we live in here, there is still a malaise pervading society, creating an assortment of neuroses many can't deal with. This album confronts misery, confusion and pressure to perform.
    It is presumably a catharsis for Black who, it seems, had his share of rejection by society and sought refuge in music. But as a refuge it has served him particularly well. Let's hope he doesn't lose his edge too early in his career. Not that The Servant is misanthropic - I Can Walk In Your Mind is pure Byrds, all jangling guitars and perfect two-part harmony, and Liquify has the sort of chart-bound sing-along refrain that could irritate if the song had no depth.

Strange bedfellows crop up throughout: Album opener Cells, dealing as it does with a sense of uneasiness about the society we have created, fuses another sing-along chorus with a Cooper Temple Clause musical edge. Devil comes straight from Robert Johnson's crossroads soul-dealing exploits. Musically diverse within its few short minutes, it passes from Delta blues to more Cooper Temple Clause rock anxiety, and takes in a Stevie Wonder funky keyboard stab for good measure. Sounds a mess, but it works.
    There are more surprises: Beautiful Thing may sound like a radio-friendly unit shifter, but the lyric finds its protagonist "on the edge of a high rise roof." Jesus Says is a sleaze-funk number hailing the return of the Son of God as a money-grubbing dealer. And Get Down's mental instability sounds like Page and Plant going to California with flowers in their hair.

Somehow the music not always translating the lyrical intent is not a problem. Listen to what's going on and you will realise there is a greater force at work in and around these few tunes than you'll find in almost the entire catalogue of insipid nonsense served up by the pop-whoring community.
    This album bears the mark of quality. Compositional skill is matched by musical emotion. Lyrical depth is tempered with realism. It is satisfying but leaves you wanting more. This is not the greatest album ever, or probably even of this year, but it is a joy to hear musicians that know how to create without sticking to a formula. Creative influences are inevitable, but that doesn't mean the result here lacks thought. The Servant is rare in that the creators do what they feel is right, and that'll do for me.

:: Tom Alford

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