Album Review: Barry Hyde – Malody

By on Friday, 3rd June 2016 at 4:00 pm
 

Header photo by Ian West

Barry Hyde Malody album cover, photo by Ian WestFor most of his adult life, Barry Hyde has been best known as the guitar-playing frontman for Sunderland post-punk group The Futureheads. To the outside world as the leader of the North East band, he was an irrepressible ball of energy, his charisma and crazy antics onstage legendary. When I saw the band live in 2010, he even went so far to send me a direct message on Twitter, promising they’d knock my socks off at the Black Cat.

To Hyde himself, the stage, ‘turned on’ version of himself served as a cover for the confusion and instability within. It would take years and a series of fateful incidents – including an ill-advised period of ‘dropping out’ with meditating yoga devotees that actually did more harm to his mental health than good, as well as the dissolution of his marriage – before he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

But mental illness is an insidious beast. At the worst of times, destruction seems an easier path than rebuilding. Somehow, from hell and back and with the continued support of family and friends, Barry Hyde has survived. He’s come through and out the other side intact but with a better appreciation for life and his own resilience, knowing what trials his psyche has been through. Released today, Hyde’s labour of love, the evidence of his survival, is contained in his debut solo album ‘Malody’, a term he coined to combine his two worlds of music (melody) and illness (malady).

Though this album originated as a vampire musical that was rejected by his Futurehead bandmates, you can still hear whiffs of its operatic early beginnings. The biggest surprise about ‘Malody’ to longtime Futureheads fans will be its focus on piano as the primary instrument instead of guitar. Hyde proves that the piano – along with some incredible backing by an orchestral six-piece – can be a powerful musical device, mirroring the emotional depth he explores against himself, within himself, of his journey back from the abyss and in his continued survival.

Hyde begins our journey with him with the generically titled ‘Theme’, as if we’re about to be treated to a film. Who is it that said, “my life is a movie”? Like how 19-year old Crohn’s disease sufferer Aimee Rouski proved this week that invisible illnesses should be shared and given attention, ‘Theme’ is a nice start to show sometimes things aren’t what they seem, as then the album goes into the frenetic piano playing of ‘Blixer’. Showing the agitated side of his illness, Hyde says of the song, “it burns my arm when I play it, but it has to because I was burning my soul when I was manic.” One of the most difficult things for people who don’t suffer mental illness to understand is that the manifestations are out of the sufferer’s control. That fact makes it all the worse, because the only action that makes sense for the person to take is the one that feels right to him and his body at that moment.

On the whirling dervish that is ‘Monster Again’, Barry Hyde tackles head on the inherent evil of manic depression, not knowing what mood he will be in throughout the day. Will he feel fine, or will he suddenly change and feel like a different person, out of control? Those with chronic illness are united with the knowledge that there are good days and there are bad days, and even with the best of intentions, taking medication properly and getting proper rest, there are great unknowns and trials to face ahead. Knowing what I know about Barry’s mental state, the challenging, in your face nature of 2010 Futureheads album ‘The Chaos’ now makes total sense. (It’s one of my favourite albums ever.) How funny that even without knowing it on a conscious level, I entirely related to its many moods because unbeknowst to me, I had something in common with their singer. Constructed by Hyde as a direct confrontation to the psychic leeches that sap a bipolar patient’s mental energy, ‘Sugar’ is a much more personal, elegant version of Katy Perry’s ‘Hot and Cold’:

I knew you
You would
Rub my face
In to the mud
But then you wrap me
In your silken gown
’cause when you took my heart
You also took my frown

Back-to-back tracks of ‘Lonely’ and ‘Loneliness’ highlight the ability of such an illness and its manifestations to isolate the patient from the rest of the world. Both have moments of seeming serenity, then punctuated by louder, jauntier expressions of the other side of the coin. A cover of Prince’s ‘Sometimes It Snows in April’, particularly poignant with the Purple One’s passing several weeks ago, continues the Futureheads’ impressive tradition of wonderfully reimagined versions of their originals. This one, along with ‘While We Were Sleeping’, drives home the fact that despite any crazy antics others may witness, those with mental illness are some of the most emotionally insightful people who will ever grace your life.

“You run away like you don’t belong / under the weather, under the sun”, Hyde sings in the album’s grand closer ‘Thunder Song’. In this emotionally raw debut album ‘Malody’, he has bared all, pulling back the curtain on those who have been misunderstood, confused, ill and made lonely. We still have a long way to go in erasing all stigma in mental illness. But in this astonishing display of honesty about his own struggles, Barry Hyde has proved in a powerful way and in the best way he knows how – through music – that there is a way back home again.

9/10

‘Malody’, the emotional solo debut album by Barry Hyde, is out today on Sirenspire Records. This editor hopes with all her heart that he will make it out to America someday soon to perform these songs live.

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