For ages, I thought that the line in ‘Skinny Love’ went, “and I told you to be patient, I told you to be fine, I told you to be badass.” And, a little part of me still thinks that that would make it just a little bit cooler. Cool lyrics or not, ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ is a beautifully emotive record and one which was absolutely everywhere last year. Sadly, the good lady became absolutely obsessed with it and so, when wandering about the house for months on end, I heard little else. It did, I’ll confess, start to piss me off slightly. However, as is so often the case with over-played but splendid albums, I weaned her off it and gave it a little rest.
Since returning to it, and listening rather more sporadically than before, I’ve remember why I fell in love with it in the first place. At times, the spaces between the notes are almost as important as the notes themselves on a record as sparse as this. While the mood is hardly buoyant, this downbeat album doesn’t fall into the wallowing category I mentioned when profiling Beck’s ‘Sea Change’. The multi-tracked vocals instil a certain sense of euphoria and numerous tracks are truly invigorating, not least ‘The Wolves (Act I & II)’. With a title like that it should really be pretentious shite, but it builds to a chaotic middle eight that roams all over the place before returning to more subdued fare to close out the first half of proceedings.
The curiously fragile but effortlessly melodic voice is the key here. While the musical arrangements are never less than excellent, the effect of a special voice can never be overstated. When they click, they truly click and you’re never likely to fall out of love with those songs. Such voices often inspire heated debate and, for example, there are many more people who hate Tom Waits’ voice than love it. While Justin Vernon’s voice is nothing like the corrosive tones of Waits, it is similarly affecting.
If you hadn’t arrived at it of your own accord, it would have been easy to write this album off as a result of all the hype that surrounded it in the music press and on various music message boards last year but you’d be wrong to deprive yourself of this album. To be more precise, you’d be plain foolish to never treat yourself to album closer ‘Re: Stacks’, which was is one of the finest tracks from the last decade.