Eight years on from Gene’s almost inaudible death rattle, Martin Rossiter emerges with an album that hits the heights of their most dramatic ballads and retains the wit and verbal dexterity that made him a frontman to adore. Having checked in on him sporadically over the past decade, the promise of new material had always seemed faint but, when Rossiter took to Twitter at the end of August to announce an album would be with us shortly, the anticipation could finally mount. Along with a little Pledge action, I was lucky enough to get hold of the album at the end of August, so please don’t think this album chanced its way to the top on only a few weeks of listening. This remarkable record is utterly deserving of its position.
Essentially one man and his piano, the mellifluous roar of old is given free reign over beautifully crafted melodies. ‘I Must Be Jesus’, every bit as good as the title suggests, sets hyperbolic teenage angst against JC’s plight, and contains some of his predictably fabulous lyrics: “If life’s unkind, then you must be divine. And, yes, I do mean literally”, followed by the piano refrain equivalent of a deadpan stare. You will play it over and over just to enjoy the warm, fuzzy feeling it provokes. The sparing use of a small male voice choir to reinforce the chorus is one of many breath-takingly meticulous touches on this exceptionally fine record.
The simplicity of ‘My Heart’s Designed For Pumping Blood’ can summon an involuntary physical response, be it hairs on the back of your neck or that little raising of one’s shoulders that occurs upon hearing something stirring, while relatively grandiose opener ‘Three Points On A Compass’ denounces useless fathers with the aching refrain “the only thing I got from you was my name” played out over an irresistible, largely instrumental, second half. There is a primal roar of “no” at one point which has echoes of that supremely powerful moment in Gene’s ‘Speak To Me Someone’ from 1997’s ‘Drawn To The Deep End’ when Rossiter bellows the same word at 2:23 and the song heads off towards the stratosphere.
This is not an album to debut to a large group of people. There’s plenty of, albeit beguilingly expressed, sadness in these songs and the pared down arrangements demand your attention and your emotional energy. A good pair of headphones will see you right, or perhaps a dark night, a good seat and a stiff drink.
I could gladly rattle off reasons why each of the ten songs here are worthy of your precious time, but I would hope the quality of this album has been made clear by the examples above. If Gene ever meant even a little to you – or you simply like well written, beautifully performed music – then ‘The Defenestration of St Martin‘ could well be about to be your new favourite record. A very welcome return and a quite remarkable listen.