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Joseph Arthur - The Ballad of Boogie Christ (Review)

Joseph Arthur, The Ballad of Boogie Christ

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

CONCEPT albums, by their very nature, tend to be hit-and-miss affairs. Joseph Arthur fares a lot better than most, however, with his double LP The Ballad of Boogie Christ.

Described by the Ohio-native himself as “a fictionalised character loosely based on my own journey”, this is alive with the same intelligent songwriting and ear-pleasing instrumentals that have become a hallmark of Arthur’s career to date.

The sound owes more to ‘60s southern soul and the sort of future-folk that Beck would admire, especially on the second CD, which may just be my favourite of the two.

It’s littered with religious imagery (from song names to lyrical suggestions) yet never feels too preachy and often succeeds in making you think about what Arthur has to say, arriving complete with some great instrumental arrangements.

The first CD opens with the orchestral pop of Currency of Love, which succeeds in grabbing your attention even if it’s not the album’s most successful track, but it quickly impresses with Saint of Impossible Causes, which combines a great guitar hook and some sitar work with Arthur’s vibrant lyricism.

Title track The Ballad of Boogie Chris could well be a Marmite moment (lyrically and instrumentally), although I raised a smirk at lyrics such as “Christ would love hip-hop, metal and soul, Christ would bring chaos”), while the rambling, slow-burning I Used To Know How To Walk On Water underwhelms, albeit drenched in the personal pain of overcoming addiction (much like seven minute first CD closer All The Old Heroes).

But Wait For Your Lights picks up the momentum and has a stadium-sized grandeur about its upbeat piano arrangements and celebratory chorus, much like It’s OK To Be Young/Gone, while Black Flowers breezes along with a kick-ass chorus and some gospel-tinged backing, and the Hammond-organ soaked Famous Friends Along The Coast underlines Arthur’s ability to deliver a telling narrative in impresively slow-burning fashion.

On the second album, meanwhile, things begin great from the start with the laidback Blue Lights In The Rear View (which has a rousing chorus, a nice sense of hope and some great guitar-work), and the immediately more robust Maybe Yes, which is alive with great lyrics such as “is God for sale, is God a crime without a jail? Is God a poor man’s Picasso paint?… Is God a lesson you can learn?”). Again, the guitars exhilarate, while there’s a certain Stones vibe (think Sympathy For The Devil tonally).

I Am The Witness has a real Beck vibe, fusing future pop vibes with a folk-rock backdrop and an altered vocal from Arthur, Akron Skies has a tender beauty to it (complete with really low, brooding vocals), and Soul Sister Slave a melancholy, soulful vibe that marks another great mood moment.

We Began To Dance Again has another great vibe attached with yet more downbeat lyricism (“she thinks no one knows she’s using drugs, she sweeps her pain under rugs”) to offer a nice contrast, Whisper of Whispers has a delicious Dylan meets Cohen vibe and is delivered in a great husky vocal with acoustic accompaniment and album closer In The City, meanwhile, rounds things off a on a high, albeit with bittersweet lyrics. But the vibe is really toe-tapping and the mix of pianos and fuzzy guitars is superb, complete with a catchy, almost sing-along chorus (“in the city there is grace”).

As ever, Arthur has delivered an album that demands to be taken notice of.

Download picks: Saint of Impossible Causes, Wait For Your Lights, Black Flowers, Famous Friends Along The Coast, Blue Lights In The Rear View, Maybe Yes, I Am The Witness, Soul Sister Slave, Whisper of Whispers, In The City

Track listing:
Disc: 1

  1. Currency Of Love
  2. Saint Of Impossible Causes
  3. The Ballad Of Boogie Christ
  4. I Used To Know How To Walk On Water
  5. Wait For Your Lights
  6. I Miss The Zoo
  7. It’s OK To Be Young/Gone
  8. Still Life Honey Rose
  9. Black Flowers
  10. King Of Cleveland
  11. Famous Friends Along The Coast
  12. All The Old Heroes

Disc: 2

  1. Blue Lights In The Rear View
  2. Maybe Yes
  3. I Am The Witness
  4. Travel As Equals (acoustic)
  5. Holding The Void
  6. Missy Baba
  7. Akron Skies
  8. Junkies and Limousines
  9. We Began To Dance Again
  10. Whisper Of Whispers
  11. House Of Your Love
  12. In The City