Bill Madden - Gone Review
Posted by Luke Beach on 02.24.2006
Political arguments? Check. Regretful love songs? Check. Thoughtfulness on the meaning of life? Check. Great music? Check.
Artist: Bill Madden Album: Gone Released : March 2006 Released By: Madmuse
With the recent mini-resurgence of the singer-songwriter genre, led by Willy Mason and Connor O'Durst, a large number of hopeful artists have staked their musical claim, looking to achieve the same mainstream success (though not the same fate) of men like Elliot Smith. Bill Madden's Gone, though not his first album, is his next chance to achieve such prominence. Whether he'll achieve it is up to the paying public, not me, but I sincerely hope that this review encourages readers to listen to Gone, because it's a bloody good album that I enjoyed just as much as Masons Where The Humans Eat (though it doesn't quite match up to the greatness of I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning). Thanks to a decent mix of songs with different tempo, and the consistency of Madden's smooth vocals, Gone is a critical triumph, and certainly the best solo album I've heard so far this year.
As the album begins, Madden entices the listener in with ‘Weight of His Words', a melodious ballad that immediately showcases the vocals and lyrics. Madden's voice is full of range, and it combines with the variety of instruments throughout the album to produce plenty of melody. On occasions, Madden's vocals reminded me of the late Jeff Buckley, which can only be a compliment. The clarity and clearness of the vocals lets the lyrical meaning shine through. I won't pretend to understand the meaning of every one of Madden's lyrics, some of them are a little obscure, but there's a general tone that runs through the album, which becomes a little clearer through the lyrics of the second track, ‘Path of the Heart';
"We're conditioned and programmed
By unwitting moms and dads
Ignorant as the rest of us
And tradition without fail"
Madden's political ideologies become more apparent as Gone progresses, and his liberal views are more explicit in certain songs, such as the title track, ‘Gone', which appropriately increases the tempo to a far more furious pace, with the prominent presence electric guitar. It's here that Madden puts across his message, pro-environmentalism and anti-commercialism. It's a strong message, and though I'm often put off by political message in song, it didn't really bother me, thanks to the variety of other songs on offer. I've got to admit though, that the slower, quieter tracks made a far greater impression on me than the faster tracks. It's great that Bill Madden's offering variety, and Gone is a pretty decent, rock ‘n roll hybrid of a song (with vocals that reminded me of Paul Weller), but if you stopped me in the street and asked me how the rhythm went, I'd probably find it difficult to remember. The highlights of the album, in my opinion, are songs like ‘Might Have Been', which was my personal favourite.
Might Have Been really shows up the good quality of production, as a slight echo is added to Madden's slightly distant voice, and it comes across brilliantly with a stripped-down guitar melody and a slow violin. It might not be a coincidence that it's more of a traditional love song topic, either. The album's fourth track, ‘Friend', is a little louder, and a little angrier. Like all good singer-songwriters, Madden makes you feel his pain and anger. If you pay too much attention to the lyrics, it can become a little depressing, as there's really only one happy song. ‘Mi Vida Es' (My Life Is) is it's name, a pleasant Spanish/English tune where Madden counts his blessings in life;
They're heart-warming sentiments, but they don't come across as prominently as Madden's preaching tone. It's his occasionally excessive downbeat tone that I found to be Gone's biggest flaw. Though it consists of melodious, harmonic, and occasionally beautiful music, the lyrics generally are either negative or regretful, and so spread this tone throughout the album. People used to listening to guys like Elliot Smith will be used to it, and the music sans lyrics is always pleasant, but Madden does seem to focus on his negative emotions a fair amount. Still, if we're going to complain about depressing lyrics in music we'll be here all day.
Of the remaining tracks, I really enjoyed ‘Dangerous Game', another slower, stripped-down acoustic track, with Madden's control of his vocals is again a highlight. It's also an explicitly anti-war in Iraq song without pretentiousness, referring to the ‘black gold' and my favourite lyric of the album; "How many barrels of blood does it take to fill an SUV?". Though your appreciation of this song might be based on your own political views, I much preferred it to the energetic title track of Gone, since it's refreshing nowadays (in the time of System of a Down and Green Day) to hear a controlled political song. ‘Art of Being' is more of an existentialist take on life, and it too is enjoyable to hear.
The albums final two tracks, ‘Awful Good' and ‘Everything and That' don't really stand out, but similarly don't disappoint, and wind up the album nicely. Listening to Gone all the way through may not effect your political outlook, but it really should make Bill Madden a more recognised, and highly respected musical name. Gone isn't without its flaws; namely the often too negative tone, and occasionally oblique lyric (though maybe I'm just stupid), but they're very much outweighed by the positives. It's harmonious, melodic, and Bill Madden really has a voice that could melt even the most cynical critic.
The 411: As I said before, Gone is the best solo album I’ve heard yet this year. It’s very pleasant to listen to, isn’t repetitive, and thankfully contains intelligent lyrics that should make the listener think. If the overly political messaging puts you off, you’re missing out.