Richard Self – Lives Of The Ignorant Part 2 – Album Review
“Musician/producer with not enough time on his hands.” #Truth #IHearYaBrother
What a trip this record is! I’m not even kidding…this is like…some kind of intergalactic concept & story woven into the fabric of the songs on Richard Self’s Lives Of The Ignorant Part 2 – it’s something else to experience, that I can certainly confirm. Right off the drop as “Spectacular” came in, and the spoken-word narrative began, I ended up right on the edge of my seat, hangin’ onto this whole adventure from start to finish – and I haven’t really stopped that since it all got going…I’ve toured relentlessly through Lives Of The Ignorant – there is simply too much fun to be had on this album to wanna stop listening to it. “Spectacular” will give you a perfect glimpse of what I mean as a snapshot…only a precious few tracks on this record have Spoken Word in the mix for ya, so take’em and enjoy’em when you can – I know I did! I love stories. To me, the whole of “Spectacular” and listening to it felt like I had to be missing the companion graphic novel that comes with this album, or like…that Lives Of The Ignorant Part 2 could practically be its own Sci-Fi television series. Fantastic details in the writing, stellar delivery, and straight-up brilliant musicianship – all in one you say Richard? SIGN ME UP brother-man – I bought the ticket to take the ride through this record immediately, listening to the origin story of Agent 701 as the album began. Presumably, the tale runs through this record in a multitude of ways…and like all concept records, some of them are more obvious than others…some tracks are like a pre-requisite to listen to another, and many tracks have no problem standing on their own outside of the theme as well. There’s a whole lot goin’ on here that I’m excited to unpack with ya – and I’ve BEEN excited ever since the fantasy-driven, spacious, galaxial vibes began my audible voyage into this “Spectacular” sonic odyssey.
The synthetic/futuristic vibe certainly fits – I think a lot of people out there will dig on the Depeche Mode-esque kick-in to your journey across the galaxy via “Blood” as the album takes flight – this second cut’s got remarkable digital groove to it. Clearly, with this record being based somewhat in a storyline setting taking place way the heck out in the universe – you already know full-well that the lyricism is going to be loaded with details, but you’ll still be impressed by the word selection that goes into these songs. Maybe that’s just me…I’m…uh…kind of a word-nerd I guess – but a proud one! I’m always stoked when artists/bands actually put EFFORT we can notice in a tangible way as we listen, and not only does a track like “Blood” reveals tons that speaks volumes on behalf of what Richard’s put into this album – good gravyboat lighthouse, “Blood” just freakin’ SOUNDS damn good to listen to as well! Like I was sayin’ – there’s a fantastic rhythm & pulse to this track, great synthetic sounds, and Self does a great job with the vocals upfront on the mic – you can hear he’s got that whole front-man/entertainer thing down to a science. There’s no doubt that Richard knows how to keep you fully engaged – and trust me when I tell ya, if he doesn’t have you at hello like he did with me on Lives Of The Ignorant Part 2 – just you wait…chances are, it’ll be the next cut that’s going to grab the rest of you remaining holdouts.
A track like “Softly Does It” probably moves us further away from the storyline without the full context behind each song…and sure, in a way, I suppose that matters…maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t – I just know what sounds great to listen to, and THIS is the very definition of that. “Stay forever with me,” you ask in the hooks Richard? Well…I suppose I know the lyrics weren’t directed to me specifically & all, but don’t mind me if I PULL UP A CHAIR and sit down to listen for like…a millennium? I freakin’ LOVE “Softly Does It” – this is absolutely single-worthy sound at its finest, and a track that I don’t think anyone could possibly miss in the lineup of this record. Definitely one of the easiest cuts for me to like on a personal level this year – the keys/synth of Richard Self’s music always reveals an irresistibly inspired spark to it. What I think really made the difference to me in this particular cut, was the fact that it’s like hook-upon-hook-upon-hook…from the verses to the chorus to the surrounding instrumentation – honestly, I’d be hard pressed to identify my favorite aspect of “Softly Does It” from the music to the microphone really. It’s hands-down one of the best cuts on Lives Of The Ignorant Part 2, if not one of the very best this year.
These ideas…they are SUBSTANTIAL y’all – listen to the magnificence of a track like “A Gentle Time” will ya? I feel like this song, guest-starring singer Allison Chamberlain was perfectly as advertised by its title. It’s inherently sweet…I think what surprised me the most was the fact that a track self-described as anything-gentle was able to keep me that actively interested in it! Don’t get it twisted, don’t get me wrong – I’m all for slower jams, and even slower than this delicate gem of a song is for that matter – but I’d still be the first to admit, it’s not like they usually have you equally excited so much as mesmerized, know what I mean? I feel like Richard and Allison were somehow able to pull both of those things off at the same time…and that all-in-all, their combined performance makes for a brilliant experience filled with quality from the every angle in a situation like this. I’d be willing to bet that “A Gentle Time” ends up being one of the songs on this album that’ll surprise people the most really…like…I pretty much expect that the majority of ya will dig it to begin with…but I think you’ll be impressed by just how much you REALLY dig it by the time you get about three or four spins in. The potential for this delicate diamond of audible exquisiteness to grow on ya is exponential in tandem with your exposure to it – the more you hear it, the more you’ll appreciate it from the stunning performances to the impeccable detail.
That being said, where the rubber really meets the road…err…sorry…I mean, where the spaceships really meet the stars, is on “Messier 42.” I wouldn’t necessarily say Richard’s doling out the hard-stuff exactly, but the intensity of this song is undeniably amped-up in comparison to what you’ve already heard and experienced on this record so far. The question is – can Richard Self keep you fully entertained for seven and a half minutes, without your attention waning for a solitary second of “Messier 42” – this album’s LONGEST cut? I’m proud to report that YES…yes in fact, he CAN. Honestly, if you DON’T dig on “Messier 42,” in my opinion, that says a hell of a lot more about YOU than it does about Richard…because this song is bloody brilliant. You’ve got a nearly four minute sonic adventure before a single word is even sung, and then, when you do get to the vocals, it’s somewhere in the realm of Depeche Mode-meets-The Editors…with perhaps just a hint more melody in Self’s voice than either of those other bands can provide. In many ways…I didn’t think that anything would beat “Softly Does It” for me on this particular record – and I’m not going to say that “Messier 42” DID, or always did…there were definitely a few spins where the weight of the lyrics and the intensity of this song’s instrumental sections proved to be one of the most meaty part of the entire experience, and music you could rock right the fuck out to – but I don’t know if I could go quite so far as to say I enjoyed it more than “Softly Does It” overall. At times perhaps…like I said, don’t get it twisted…I have turned this song STRAIGHT UP TO THE RAFTERS at most opportunities as I listened over this past week…but rival awesomeness to “Softly Does It” is the best I’m willing to concede to ya. If “Messier 42” was YOUR favorite track on this record, you’d get nothing but a huge high-five from me, because obviously your taste in music would be fantastically top-shelf. The guitar riffs…the TONE…the way “Messier 42” comes ALIVE as it evolves…I’m tellin’ ya…this is 100% aces.
“Messier 42” is SO DAMN AWESOME…that if anything, it made it so that “Love Again” took more to convince me than perhaps it should have had to. In any other realm, on any other record – I’m thinkin’ that “Love Again” would be an instant hit…it’s also stocked with single-worthy sound from wall to wall, and boasts another exceptional performance from Allison, who takes on the entirety of the vocals this time. Coming right after the wild antics of “Messier 42” would have proven to be a challenge for just about ANY song out there…and I suppose I can’t really ask for much more than what we get on “Love Again” – it’s a really great tune. At the start, it sounds like a twist on a David Bowie song, then sweetly dissolves into the vocal melody, and some magnificently impressive vocal highlights from Allison that occur even before the main hooks of the chorus show up. It’s kind of like two separate personalities at work in a way…what just happened on “Messier 42” was straight-up otherworldly and exploratory – and what you get on “Love Again” sticks closer to the script of songwriting in all the right ways. It’s a flawless performance by both Richard and Allison together again on this second appearance…and what is that – the saxophone? That’s one of the best additions/extra features I’ve heard in a song that I was ALREADY enjoying this year…that saxophone is the complete cherry on top. By the time it comes along, you’ve fully fallen in love with both the music and vocals of this song and thought it couldn’t get any better than it was – BUT. IT. DID. Richard Self and Allison Chamberlain are rockin’ my world and the entire galaxy in the process y’all…there’s a subtle charm in this melody like The Cardigans used to create and I’d bet there’s a whole lot of people out there that miss that sound, that’ll love every second of this.
The second-half of the record speeds by a bit more quickly, with three of the final six tracks being between 1:01 – 2:15 in length, starting with the longest on the spectrum in “Eulogy.” I’m not opposed to it…ultimately, I think if you dig what you’ve been listening to so far on this record, it’s pretty easy to go along and accept this tune as well. I like the distance between the music and the spoken word, I like the pleading sense of urgency we get in the final message before it’s over…and I’ve been faithfully in love with the production on this album every step of the way. There are certainly positives…and of course, you’d imagine this track plays into the story of the adventures of our hero/”humble spy” as well; I don’t know that “Eulogy” would stand much of a chance standing on its own, but I do like what it adds to the context of the whole record – make sense? Like if Richard was your buddy, and he was like, “hey – come listen to THIS” and sounded super excited about “Eulogy,” which he should by all accounts rightfully be as its creator, it would still be incredibly weird to experience this one tune without all the others. Yeah! That’s what I’m saying. Good song within the context, weird experience on the outside.
With the smash of a crash, “Tonight” kicks into gear, and probably supplies what I’d say is the second-half of this album’s most single-worthy sound. As it begins, it’s like listening to a track created by Garbage…there’s a dangerous menace that hangs in the atmosphere, and a wickedly dark groove that comes along with the digital-meets-analog vibe this track pumps out. Robbie Spillain comes in to join Richard on this one as well…I’m a fan of both these gentlemen – I don’t hear anything on “Tonight” that I felt like they could have done any better than they already have. Solid groove, great melody…I suppose if anything, I was wondering how the heck we go from space to the crashing of a car at the beginning…but if I’m being entirely honest with you…hold on for this knowledge bomb – this secret stays between you and me…shhhh – I’ve never told anyone this before, but I’ve never actually been to space! So maybe there are cars up there somewhere – what do I know? Maybe they took a quick trip or detour to Earth for this like…Liam Neeson-esque tale of being Taken in audible form…I couldn’t tell ya! Again – I just know what I like to listen to, and “Tonight” supplied the goods. Great vocals, great musical hooks…it’s got depth & swagger to it…all-in-all, I think this will be another cut people will completely dig.
Daniel Joseph Patrick Ryan-Lowes reappears on “Numb” to narrate the tale like how he did on “Spectacular” as it began…and I think that, if there’s one thing we can all universally agree on, it’s that Daniel Joseph Patrick Ryan-Lowes needs MORE names, am I right? Dude! Save some for the rest of us will ya? I kid, I kid…I really like what he brings to this record and its concept…he sounds very…formal. I love the background details of “Numb” – it sounds like the vocals practically never stop…they might not – they might just be more muted in parts than others…you’ll get what I mean when you hear it for yourself. Much like I felt about “Messier 42,” albeit in a much lighter & heavenly melodic gear this time around – the longer material on Richard’s album is beyond exceptional. It’s as brilliant as a song as it is ART to behold…tracks like “Numb” take a phenomenal amount of work to come out as sensational as they do. This is songwriting to be proud of, with execution that rises to the extraordinary level of ambition you’ll find in these songs – and that dear readers, dear friends…is seriously saying something. “Numb” it just above the six-minute mark…it’s another extremely meaty tune with a ton of moving parts – but everything from the smart shuffle of the beat, to the warmth of the bass & vocal melody combined, to the uniqueness of the writing and the genuine sincerity you’ll find in this song – everything about “Numb” shines brightly. A bit more complex than stuff like the hooks of “Tonight,” “Love Again,” or “Softly Does It” – which takes it out of the running to be a single in today’s world…but this is actually a whole lot closer than you might think for a song of this magnitude. I know that I could personally sit here & listen to this track on repeat for hours…because I love it…and I know I could do this for a certain fact…because I DID. “Numb” is definitely a memorable artistic highlight on Lives Of The Ignorant Part 2.
Oddly enough, I feel kind of the same about “Time To Say Goodbye” – this track is built on single-worthy sound too in a sense…just more of an artistic bend to its design, and a much shorter timeframe that would also probably render it ineligible for the role – but what a freakin’ GORGEOUS tune! Ultimately, it’s…devastatingly SAD really…almost deceiving in that sense really. Like…if you were to pass by someone’s window, and they were playing this song at full blast…you’d probably be like, “oh – what a quaint, warm, and welcoming melody – sounds like a really sweet song.” And to be fair…it COULD be taken that way too, especially with the main hook & way this short just-over two minute tune goes on to finish…”I’ll see you again when I die…be with you when I die…” I believe that someone out there would call this the very definition of what bittersweet would sound like…and I suppose from my perspective, they ain’t wrong. I felt like this was another one of the most unexpected tracks on the record in terms of looking at things from a glance…generally speaking, I look at a song that’s 2:09 in length and think there’s almost no chance whatsoever that it’s going to make enough of an impact in such a short timeframe to affect me…and yet, here we are. Oddly enough, in the right moment, I know a track like “Time To Say Goodbye” could easily reduce me to rubble & into a sea of tears…it’s a beautiful moment in time, a powerful conclusion of sorts…and yeah…grim beyond repair at the very same time. Amazing.
From there, I guess it’s fair to say we experience the aftermath. “What’s Like Being A God?” is like what it sounds like when you’re nearing the pearly gates and have a bunch of white coats staring at you from above, contemplating whether or not you’re going to stick around any longer, or if the battle is truly over. Everything I’ve said in this review has pretty much been theory anyhow…like I said, I know there IS a storyline that runs through this record…but any concept album is always clearer to those that actually created it…the rest of us…well…we catch what pieces we can. I suppose in that sense, it’s like a metaphor for life in general…we catch what pieces we can, before it’s all over…before songs like “What’s Like Being A God?” are the last sounds that we hear before everything fades out to black…or whatever awaits us next. This track’s only a minute & one second long…and yet, by this point in time, if you’ve been listening to this album intently…you kinda end up contemplating like…the entire universe and your own role in it, however large or small it may be. Lives Of The Ignorant Part 2 ends up becoming one of the most weirdly relatable experiences you’re likely to have in that existential sense.
It’s funny…there’s been such a cinematic thread that has run through this entire album, that when you get to “Sky Bound And Happy,” if I’m being entirely honest with ya – it feels like how you feel when the most intense movie has just finished, and the credits have begun to roll. You know what I mean? It’s a moment that is bizarrely comforting…like a reset of sorts…maybe you just experienced heartbreak or a harrowing storyline that frayed every one of your nerves…and as the credits roll, you get a nice, peppy song that’s engineered to bring you back down to a baseline normal before you head out of the theater into the mid-day sun. For whatever reason…likely because it’s what Richard intended…that’s how “Sky Bound And Happy” feels when we listen to it. With Lisa Dever making a second appearance in back-to-back tracks, she gets a chance to shine that much more in the latter showing…she gets a real moment in the spotlight singing along with our hero Richard on “Sky Bound And Happy” – and brings this record to a completely satisfying finale. There’s not a doubt in my mind that Lives Of The Ignorant Part 2 has been one of the most interesting records I’ve heard this year, filled with performances that genuinely rise to the challenge & a set of captivating songs that provoke our emotions as much as they move our hearts & minds. This is album is unique…and I won’t forget it any time soon…Richard, you’ve outdone yourSelf – thank you for creating an entire record that truly thrives on its uniqueness and sense of wonder, 100%.
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