Album Review: Charlie Fink – Cover My Tracks

By on Tuesday, 20th June 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Charlie Fink Cover My Tracks coverThe tagline for alt-folk singer/songwriter Charlie Fink’s latest project ‘Cover My Tracks’ is an intriguing one: “An idealistic young songwriter sets out to write a 21st Century pop masterpiece and vanishes without a trace. Might her personal songbook be the key to unlocking the mystery?” It’s rare enough to encounter an album with a pre-conceived plot line running through it. But Fink, it seems, has taken the idea even further, bringing his narrative drama to full fruition.

A few years back, Fink provided the musical score for playwright David Greig’s stage production of Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Lorax’. Building upon that experience, Fink has crafted his debut solo album ‘Cover My Tracks’ as the soundtrack to a complete, though reportedly very minimal, stage production of the same name, scripted by Greig and performed by Fink and actress Jade Anouka. Fink is credited with music and lyrics for the new production, and his recordings of the songs comprise the album version of ‘Cover My Tracks’.

Though ostensibly part of a fictional storyline, the songs on ‘Cover My Tracks’ feel very personal. Straightaway, opening track ‘Firecracker’ makes reference to a fateful meeting with a fellow songwriter in 2005, bringing to mind Fink’s history with songwriter and former Noah and the Whale bandmate Laura Marling. It’s impossible not to wonder if Fink’s concept was inspired by the enigmatic Marling, but it’s also a question that doesn’t require an answer, as his songs weave a tantalising story of their own.

Fink writes from the perspective of the aforementioned female protagonist, which draws an interesting parallel with the shifting gender perspectives on Marling’s recent album ‘Semper Femina’. But where Marling’s was a consciously elusive writing technique, Fink had a very clear and defined purpose in mind. After toying with the idea of writing different characters on Noah and the Whale’s 2013 LP ‘Heart of Nowhere’, Fink has here narrowed his focus to the development of a single character, one that his listeners connect with almost immediately.

The early part of the album’s tracklisting comprises the expository part of the stage play and explores a variety of musical contexts. After introducing his character in ‘Firecracker’, Fink moves through the warm, folky ballad ‘Anywhere You’re Going is On My Way’ and channels the spirit of Lou Reed in ‘I Was Born to Be a Cowboy’, a lighter, shuffling arrangement that works as well independently as it does in the context of the full album.

Lofty string and wind arrangements provide a soft tone color and a sense of momentum under Fink’s otherwise austere neo-folk style. ‘The End of the Legendary Hearts’ is a broadly melodic narrative that combines those musical touches with his witty, incisive lyrics (“though I still meant every word that I said, I do regret throwing a drum at your head”). Slow ballad ‘Give Me the Road’ has a hint of musical theatre that borders on schmaltzy, until Fink sings the unlikely line, “I want to sing in a country bar and get laid under a clear sky of stars”.

Album centerpiece ‘Orpheus is Playing the Troubadour’ combines self-conscious classical art song references with Fink’s starkly exposed alt-folk. This marks the pivot-point of the plot, and Fink’s narrative takes on a third-person perspective as he sings “it’s so hard being so close but still just out of reach”. The underlying mystery in the storyline is played out in increasingly dark and introspective musical arrangements on the album’s second half. Standout track ‘The Howl’ is a fine study in this dramatic progression, with its anxious guitar rhythm and shifting instrumentation, which foreshadow the song’s final rumination, “and I wonder, surely this is Hell”.

In typical musical theatre style, lyrics from ‘Orpheus in Playing the Troubadour’ are reprised in later tracks ‘I’m Through’ and the poignantly wistful ballad ‘Someone Over Me Tonight’, which includes some of Fink’s most beautifully poetic lines. Likewise, the slightly jazzy, consciously artful arrangement of ‘Here is Where We’ll Meet’ ends the album proper on a strong note, both musically and lyrically, as Fink sings “from now on, here is where we’ll meet / in the space where the rhythm’s incomplete / in the silence that floats / between the pulse of the notes” ahead of the instrumental postlude ‘Firecracker, Pt. 2’.

While the plot of ‘Cover My Tracks’ might have been inspired by people and events from his past, Fink gives the overall impression on the LP that he is looking forward. Letting go of his previous incarnation as frontman of Noah and the Whale once and for all, Fink seems to have found a firm footing in the dramatic realm, even as he explores unusual and as yet uncharted artistic territory.

9/10

Charlie Fink’s debut solo album ‘Cover My Tracks’ is out now. The stage production of ‘Cover My Tracks’ has recently finished its 2-week run at The Old Vic theatre in London, but Fink has announced plans to tour the stage adaptation more widely this summer (dates are posted on his official Web site). David Greig’s production of ‘The Lorax’, with music by Charlie Fink, will return to The Old Vic this October.

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