“These are the most honest songs I've ever written and they represent new ground for me creatively. They may not be radio friendly or even 'friendly' at all, but I’ve been wanting to make a record like this for a long time." That is how Will Varley describes his new album, and it is a description that immediately drew me in, excited to give the record a first listen. Even more delighting to me was the discovery that the album was recorded just outside my hometown in Kent, as the first few chords of To Build A Wall began playing in a style reminiscent of a calmer track from the likes of Kim Churchill or early Mumford and Sons. Whilst it lacks the anthem-like nature of protest songs from The Levellers or Show of Hands, the song’s message rings poignant and clearly with its poetic lyrics in a way that I am sure any rational person will appreciate in the current political climate and our sudden desire to put all of our problems behind walls.
Something is Breaking opens a slightly different sound; more confident and determined. Varley seems by the midpoint of the song to have found his anthem, and as I listen to it I can almost see the performer on stage in front of me. The slight discord and dynamic change of the refrain, I imagine, must be captivating on stage. As the song finishes, slower vocals reminiscent of the album’s opener fade in for the six-and-a-half-minute ballad When She Wakes Up, though when one listens closely you can hear his guitar playing going in some very interesting directions rhythmically. Just as I am beginning to think around the halfway mark if it is going to stay like this for the whole length of the song, it thankfully begins to pick up briefly, but the interlude seems a little too short for me before returning to familiar sounding patterns. Despite the atmospheric beauty of the song, I do feel it goes on slightly longer than it needs to.
February Snow starts off misleadingly with a slightly upbeat feel in the guitar chords, before developing into another atmospheric ballad that feels like it could have been written by Simon and Garfunkel, though particularly in the chorus one can hear real emotion in Varley’s voice during this song. More commentary on Donald Trump and Nigel Farage is greatly appreciated by this listener on the sixth track, and with a short running time it seems to be exactly the kind of punchy, in-your-face, satirical anthem that we need to see more of in the current political climate; even if the word “fascist” is misused. In fact, I only wish that this one were longer, I found myself singing along to We Want Our Planet Back on my first listen, much to my surprise and delight.
Wild Bird is a nice pickup after a slightly tedious seven-minuter, Too Late Too Soon; despite the downbeat lovesick theme the eighth song manages to provide another slightly different feel and it makes an interesting listen, but the next real highlight for me was another rockier one called Back To Hell. It is dark, and it captures the attention as soon as it begins; I adore the slightly cabaret-like feel that, to me, conjures up imagery of a World War Two military showcase with a modern spin, especially with the single notes at the end of the chorus. It is definitely my favourite on the album so far, competing for the top spot previously held by Something Is Breaking. The waltz of One Last Look at the View and short-but-slow We’ll Keep Making Plans, whilst not being flagship songs in themselves, for me at least, finish the album off nicely, and thankfully without repetition of too much earlier material. It does drop off a little bit unexpectedly at the end of the last song, but leaves the listener in a nice state of reflection on the journey that they have come on with Will Varley.
Whilst there are a few songs that do get a bit repetitive, and all in all I could probably have done without the two really long ones, I did genuinely enjoy this album. There are a wide range of styles to be heard, from acoustic rock to old Americana, and clear influences from celebrity artists of the last century all the way to his fellow singer songwriters of the modern day. I believe I have made my three favourites clear, though a great many of the other tracks have a lot to offer as well; especially the acclaimed and enigmatic opener. Most importantly, unlike a great many other singer songwriters, Varley’s voice and lyrics just do not seem to get stale throughout the album. Now then, time to start convincing my editor to get me in for a live review, as this album has definitely put Varley on my list of artists to watch out for in the future.