A new Greg Fleming album is often a good thing. In a country of fake folkies, Fleming is a consummate songwriter (‘Edge of the City’ was one of my favourite albums of 2012), a no-nonsense poet of Auckland’s urban sprawl. Fleming shares a refined lack of pretension with that other great under-rated New Zealand songwriter, Paul Metsers. OK: Metsers has lived in the UK for donkey’s years, but let’s forget that — the vernacular of ‘Farewell to the Gold’ is so rooted in Otago it couldn’t be anywhere else, just as Fleming’s is rooted so firmly in that curious northern city. And like Metsers, Fleming accomplishes so much with so little. Every time Fleming releases an album all this is said of course, yet it’s worth saying again — listen, I used to write for a late, great site for The Corner and then sometimes for The Wireless until Hussein probably got sick of my overwritten florid blah-de-blah reviews and also because I’m consummate at never meeting deadlines. Anyway I got a Greg Fleming CD ’cause I reviewed it (almost half a decade ago now) and sometimes it still gets played every now and again. There are not many CDs from 2012 I still play!
This might surprise some of ya’ll because my favourite music is the type that sounds like it was recorded in a closet by a herd of cats meowing at a murder of crows and Fleming most certainly does not sound like that. This is Big Budget sound. It’s been mastered and everything, probably. The vocals were probably recorded with one of those fancy thousand dollar microphones. It’s unapologetically hi-fi, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Those Bob Dylan records in the 80s (‘Infidels’ etc) are hi-fi too, and sometimes godawful (at least Fleming is tasteful) but the writing is strong enough to carry it – there’s an underlying melody which works, most of the time. Fleming is occasionally hokey and occasionally a little cheesy (‘Sick of this Shit’) yet ‘Sick of this Shit’, with it’s funny little Swiftian-hooks and weird Waits-esque phrasing (ok, ok, Ribot-esque, but certainly not Rubenesque!), well, it’s sort of good! ‘Minimum wage/in a tourist town’ hits hard. Unlike The Everson’s recent travesty (see earlier) it’s a redneck sympathy song with heart.
Anyway, a note–
Bandcamp, you are great, but if I am playing a song over and over again it is not because I am some WebPirate (TM)! It’s because I listen to a song lots before I finish my review, because I do this ‘job’ properly! Ergo:
See what you did bandcamp?! HMPH.
Anyway — back to the song. ‘City’s Waking Up’ is a kind of thoughtful and laconic meander through said city. The percussion section continues throughout with this militaristic beat (the kind favoured by our Polly Jean in her most recent incarnation). Clean guitars float as if to punctuate the percussion, and Fleming waits until he is well through the song to drop the crux of the song: ‘well I believed in you/now what do I do’ which is hardly no-bell prize winning stuff yet it’s understated — it’s everyman stuff devoid of florid faux-importance. ‘I wash my face/and change my shirt’ is equally good – could even be Springsteen. Like the great country songwriters (Townes, H. Williams I, George Jones) Fleming uses the everyday as fertile material — it doesn’t need a whole lot else. That militaristic beat is pretty good too — some musicians spend years finding that.
Notes: What was once ‘the Trains’ is now ‘The Working Poor’. The drummer here is Wayne Bell, who is perhaps one of those rare drummers who plays exactly what is needed. A